Archive | September, 2015

Straddling two worlds

20 Sep

The only library book I have ever lost and had to pay for was Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters. 

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I think I accidentally packed it into a box of books I was giving to Goodwill. I paid for the book, hoping someone at Goodwill would encounter it and return it to the library, but no one ever did. I hope whoever found it enjoyed it as much as I did and discovered a new writer.

I have read just about every book Engle has written because I know I am sure to get something a little different from what everyone else is writing, novels in verse focusing on the history of Cuba, picture books or novels with a Cuban or Latino connection.

Her latest book, Enchanted Air, follows that pattern, but adds a new twist. It is a poetic memoir of Margarita’s childhood growing up as a child of two cultures, United States and Cuba, during the Cold War.

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Goodreads Summary:Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

I love novels in verse and Engle seems to be a master of this genre. Her poems capture the angst of growing up, feeling torn between two countries, longing for adventure and travel, not always fitting in, confusion over politics and culture clashes, the beauty of Cuba and America. Things that a lot of kids feel , though maybe in a different way. My class this year is made up f children who are predominantly children of immigrants from India, China and Korea. Their experience straddling two worlds is not that different from Engle’s. I will recommend this to my students and I hope you do too.

Top Ten Books I Will Carry Over From 4th Grade to 6th by Adrienne Gillespie

19 Sep

I’m the Guest Blogger for The Nerdy Book Club today!

Nerdy Book Club

Everything was different as I packed up my class in June. I was packing for a move, not just putting things away for a few months. After 12 years in a Title I elementary school, I was going back to teaching middle school. I am going to teach 6th grade Humanities in a program for the highly gifted. I am excited to make this enormous change but it presented a packing dilemma. Which books would transition well from my 4th grade classroom to my 6th grade room? Upon reflecting, I decided these are the books I cannot live without.

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The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Ferdinand likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers, but one day he gets stung by a bee and his snorting and stomping convince everyone that he is the fiercest bull.

This classic was my favorite as a kid. This was the first book…

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Round 2 of Round 2

18 Sep

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Yesterday, the CYBILS judges were announced and I will be a Round 2 judge for YA nonfiction again this year.

I debated about whether or not I should apply to be a judge again because of my Morris Committee responsibilities. The bulk of that reading will be done by early December when we announce our five finalists. From that point until the ALA Midwinter meeting, I will concentrate on reading this five novels.  Fortunately, the ALA Midwinter Meeting comes early this year, so that will be wrapped up by January 12th.

Being a Round 2 judge is easier than being a round 1 judge, where you have to read everything. on January 1st, round 1 judges announce a shortlist of the best books they read. Round 2 judges get busy reading that shortlist. That will be my job and the timing is good. I can take the week between the announcement and my trip to ALA to putting the books I need on hold at the library. I can go to ALA prepared to debate which of our 5 Morris books is the best and when I come home, exhausted and exhilarated, I can start reading the CYBILS books that have arrived at the library.

Let’s just hope my master plan works.

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The National Book Award Longlist

17 Sep

Well, they’ve been announced and here are the nominees for YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE.

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  • Becky Albertalli, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • M.T. AndersonSymphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (Candlewick Press)
  • Ali BenjaminThe Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • Rae Carson, Walk on Earth a Stranger (Greenwillow/HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Gary Paulsen, This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
  • Laura RubyBone Gap (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magoon, X: A Novel (Candlewick Press)
  • Steve SheinkinMost Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group)
  • Neal ShustermanChallenger Deep (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Noelle StevensonNimona (HarperTeen/HarperCollins Children’s Books)

I’ve only read three of these so it looks as though I will have to make some adjustments to my “to read” pile…again.

The Return of Fall Rains

16 Sep

Almost everyone I know is relieved at the weather change. Fall seems to be back: they sky is grey and it seems to have rained overnight. A big El Niño debate is raging: will it be really rainy or really cold?

One of my first winters in Portland, an El Niño year,  it was so rainy they sand bagged downtown for fear the Willamette River would overflow. It didn’t, but floods certainly happened in outlying areas.

This gets me thinking about Don Brown’s new nonfiction book Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans.

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This is a stunning graphic chronicle of the tragedy that hit New Orleans in 2005. As with The Great Dust Bowl, the illustrations are powerful and the text combines facts and details that attest to wide research and reading on Brown’s part.

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Brown does not shy away from telling the hard parts of this story, in addition to the heroic. Graphic nonfiction makes for an easy way to build students’ background knowledge of events that happened before they were born or before they can remember. This book will be an excellent addition to any classroom library.

Watching 6th graders grow strong: A Slice of Life Story

15 Sep

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They came in last Tuesday bright-eyed and excited, full of nervous enthusiasm. They learned about their schedule and met all their teachers. We disappointed them by waiting until the next day to give them their lockers, the mark of maturity they’d dreamed about for week.

Then reality hit.

There was a lot of “stuff” to fit into their locker.

Five minutes of passing time suddenly seemed really short.

The A/B day schedule was confusing.

They forgot to bring things they needed and carried things they didn’t.

But slowly, oh so slowly…

Things began to fit in the locker.

They made it to class on time.

They made it to the right place at the right time.

They made new friends.

We are still working out some kinks, but our sixth graders are growing, stepping up to challenges, and taking root.

 

Having faith in an author

14 Sep

I’m currently  listening to Elizabeth Wein’s  Black Dove White Raven in the car.

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When I popped the first disc in, I felt a little unsure as the story began. It didn’t seem to be much of a story and I was confused by the setting (why didn’t I know the story was set in Ethiopia?). But I loved her two earlier novels, Code Named Verity and Rose Under Fire, so I had faith that the story would pull me in as they had. I’m now on the 4th disc, and it has.

The novel is set in the  Ethiopia of the 1930’s, on the cusp of war with Mussolini’s Italy. Haile Selassie’s coronation, attempts to modernize his country while fending off European aggression and speech to the UN form the historical backdrop. Here is a news clip about his speech  that failed to convince the League of Nations members to help.

This is historical fiction done well. It is also a moving story about friendship what makes a family.

Publisher’s Summary: Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes―in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

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