Archive | October, 2013

On thing leads to another

18 Oct

In 1983, the year I turned 19, the British new wave band The Fixx released an album called Reach the Beach. 

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This album had a chart topping single entitled “One Thing Leads to Another”. This very singable song has been swirling around my mind in connection with 2 books I wrote about yesterday: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. Saints connects, in my mind, to another book and to an event.

First, they connect to The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland.

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The Asian connection is obvious. But both books deal with Asian culture bumping up against Western culture and about family history and connections. Holland’s book is funny and poignant. When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart. After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined. This is a great debut novel.

The other connection is driven by character. Doctor Won in Saints, is an acupuncturist. Today, my 12-1/2-year-old basset, Fiona,

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had her first acupuncture treatment for arthritis. We tried her on Rimadyl for 2 weeks, but her liver numbers went up, so that wasn’t an alternative. Fiona’s vet, Dr. Karen Davies, suggested other medications, but, knowing she was a veterinary acupuncturist, I asked if we could try that instead of more meds.

Fiona did pretty well. She didn’t object to the  needles, and she stayed pretty still until Dr. Davies came to pull them out. We go again in a week, and once a week for 4 weeks. Dr. Davies says that we should see some improvement by then. If we don’t we probably won’t and can think about another treatment.

Fiona is sleeping right now. She always does after a trip to the vet. Maybe I will take a nap, too.

Here’s the short list

17 Oct


The short list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature have been announced. This award is unlike many other awards because the publishers submit titles to the committee, along with $125 per title. If they become a finalist, the must also contribute $1000 towards a promotional campaign. Here are the Finalists, along with the publishers who are out a thousand bucks.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp Kathi Appelt (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

I love this book and have it on my list for my teacher book club, if we ever get it going.

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The Thing About Luck – Cynthia Kadahota (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)

I struggled with this one. It has a very slow start, but gets better of you persevere.

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Far Far Away – Tom McNeal (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)

Too scary for me, but well written and a cool story. I am a weenie & couldn’t read it before bed.

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Picture Me Gone – Meg Rosoff (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Group USA)

Gorgeous & unforgettable.

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Boxers & Saints – Gene Luen Yang (First Second/Macmillan)

My favorite graphic novels of the year!

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The game’s afoot

16 Oct

Last night, OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) held a free open house event for teachers to let them preview their new Sherlock Holmes exhibit.  I was in total geek heaven. I was obsessed with Holmes and read all his books in grade 8. I can still quote him.  here’s my favorite:  “When you have eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”   

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The exhibit begins with an introduction to Sir  Arthur Conan Doyle, his medical training and the doctors and literature that inspired him to create Sherlock Holmes. And then the sleuthing begins.

The next room introduces you to the world of Victorian England and detective work at the time. All of this builds background knowledge that you can apply at the next stage. A crime has been committed and you use technology of the time to solve it. Along the way you have a detectives notebook where you can record cues and other information by way of passport punches and rubbings.

As fun as this was, I think it is a little beyond many of the 4th graders I teach. It was a room full of adults having a great time. My sister & her family (husband & 15-year-old daughter) are coming for Christmas and I think I have found a fun way for us to pass part of the holiday.

So go get your deerstalker cap. The game’s afoot!

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Ravensbruck: fiction/non-fiction pairing

14 Oct

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I read Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein this weekend. It is a wonderful companion  to Code Name Verity. 

Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors trying to learn how to treat German war wounds; and a Nachthexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive.

This got me thinking about a book I read in the summer: A Train in Winter : An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorhead.

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Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen; the eldest, a farmer’s wife in her sixties.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 women active in the French Resistance and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie.

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.

A Train in Winter draws on interviews and deep archival research to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival—and of the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship.

Both books shed light on the particular experiences of women in concentration camps. Both were  horrific, but shed light on a particular aspect of women’s history. This would be a great pairing for high school history teachers, looking for a way to give their students a deeper understanding of the Holocaust, or for kids who like me, love history. Both are very readable and I highly recommend them.

The Art of Kadir Nelson

13 Oct

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I kind of know now what it is like to meet me for the first time. When Kadir Nelson walked up to the registration table yesterday I gave him my usual cheery greeting. He was very nice, but quiet and reserves. Just like I am in new situations with strangers.  People who know me don’t often remember how quiet I was when they first met me. I was an extremely shy child and it had taken me years to become more outgoing. The desire to change came from within, and that was a lot of what Kadir talked about last night.

He told us about his beginnings as a 3-year-old artist. He took us through his middle and high school years. And he talked about the people who really taught him and influenced him, like the English teacher that wasn’t going to give him a B just because he played basketball. But do you know what Kadir did? He took the initiative to g up tho that teach rand ask her to help him get better.

He talked a lot about perseverance, about doing the work so that, when an opportunity presents itself, you are ready to take it. He talked about finding your way home and the power of beauty to overcome negativity.

It was a great way to end a great conference!

Here’s me using A. S. King in a sentence.

12 Oct

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A. S. King was amazing! I went to her small session where she told us about her experience working and presenting to kids.  Then she was our evening guest speaker where she told us about her experiences growing up, becoming a writer and the books, people and experiences that had the biggest impacts on her. She had us laughing and crying and wanting to be better people. She also made me want to reread  Paul Zindel’s The Pigman   for the first time since about 1978. I learned the word congealed from that book, but it was one of the first books with truly realistic characters that really spoke to me as a teen.

Here is a cool fact: at about age 14 she wrote down that she wanted to write books that would help kids understand adults and adults understand kids.  How cool is that!?

Here is an important question for educators: How often do we let kids just write? No prompt, just write about what they are thinking, experiencing, worrying about, either as narrative or as fiction.

And now, just for laughs, here is the outtake:

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Now, go out and read her books!

Happy “I Love Yarn Day”!

11 Oct

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Today is I LOVE YARN DAY and I probably won’t have time to knit. I’m currently working on a Kithara Shawlette, which is the October shawl in my shawlette club at my local yarn shop.

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I’m at a conference all weekend. It is an awesome conference and I am most excited to see A. S. King. She is our Saturday evening speaker. I saw her at Powells last October, on a night of torrential rain & a presidential debate. There were only about 6 of us there, but she was great! Reality Boy comes out on the 22nd. I know it is unlikely, but I’m hoping she has some copies with her.

Tomorrow, I am presenting a session about the Teacher Read Aloud Book Club I ran last year. I am presenting at 3, the same time Kadir Nelson presents. If no one shows up, I will go to his session.

I will bring my knitting along, in case I have some down time. And so I can fondle some yarn on I LOVE YARN DAY!

Alice Munro:”master of the contemporary short story”

10 Oct

Congratulations on the Nobel Prize, Alice Munro!!!

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“Munro is acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov,” the committee said.

“Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts — problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions. Her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lightning.”

Alice Munro hails from my part of the world and I often pictured my small town when I read her stories. I can credit my grade high school  teachers  for introducing me the Ms. Munro’s works, as well as the works of other Canadians. We sometimes felt that the mandate that we had to read Canadian authors was a bit plebeian, when we were anxious to spread our wings and explore the world. But reading  Lives of Girls and Women made me realize there were interesting stories to be found in towns like the ones I grew up in, and in the small details of an ordinary life.

I bet there’s a run on her books at the library!

Climb Every Mountain

9 Oct

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Remember the scene from The Sound of Music  where Maria is talking with Mother Superior after she’s come back from the von Trapp home and the kids are outside begging for her to return? Mother Superior tells Maria, when God closes a door, He opens a window. It happened to me at the library yesterday.

I returned the still unfinished The Search for Goliathus Hercules and picked up some other books I had on hold. Walking to the checkout station, I saw MULTIPLE COPIES of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, just waiting for me.

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If I didn’t have to work today, I’d have stayed up all night reading it. I only made it to page 42 last night, but I’m bringing it to work today & might hide it under my desk while I teach.

AND it is picture day at school and I’m wearing the sweater I made as my reader’s response to Code Name Verity.

I have a feeling it is going to be a GREAT day today. Forgive me if you catch me singing  Climb Every Mountain.

I hate when that happens!

8 Oct

I’m part way through In Search of Goliathus Hercules  by Jennifer Angus.

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It is due back at the library tomorrow & I can’t renew it because someone else has it on hold. I hate when that happens, especially when I am so enjoying a book.

In 1890, Henri Bell, sent England to stay with his elderly Great Aunt Georgie in America, discovers he can talk to insects. He decides to run away to join a flea circus and embarks on a great adventure that sees him in command of an army of beetles, and then on his way to British Malaya to find the mythical giant insect known as Goliathus Hercules. Along the way, he encounters Professor Young, an entomologist studying insect communication, as well as other explorers and scientists, Malayans, and the evil Mrs. Black.

The book feels old-fashioned, but with a modern sense of pacing. Angus’ illustrations are remarkable.

You can see some of Jennifer Angus’ artwork at The Midnight Garden.

I will return the book on time, but will put it on hold again so I can finish it.

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