Archive | December, 2015

Goodbye 2015…

31 Dec

No, I won’t be up until midnight reading. I haven’t stayed up on New Year’s Eve for years. Maybe decades. My New Year comes in September, with the start of each new school year.

Today, I want to tell about a small book that has been overlooked by many. It is not a book for everyone. There is little happiness in it, but there is power.


Publisher’s Summary: Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.

Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won’t survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.

Wasp is an anti-hero on a classic hero’s journey. There is no romance, as there is in so many fantasy books. It opens with Wasp’s most recent fight in which she has to win to maintain her position, a position she often loathes. She feels trapped.Until she meets the nameless ghost who asks her to help him find someone. Along the way, as one might expect on a hero’s journey, Wasp learns as much about herself as she does about the world that came before the post-apocalyptic world in which she lives.

It is such an intriguing mix of fantasy, myth and science fiction. Archivist Wasp is no beach read, but it is full of well-developed characters, excellent world building and beautiful writing.

SHIFT: A year of a word

29 Dec


Last New Year’s Eve, I wrote about my One Little Word for 2016: shift. I wanted to change jobs, be a more creative teacher and embrace the instructional changes happening in my district. I was looking forward to a year of exciting work on the Morris Award. Now, two days short of a year, I want to reflect a little on the shifts I’d hoped for and the unexpected shifts that happened.

I am thrilled by my new job. I was very disappointed two years ago when I wasn’t hired to teach at either of the middle schools where I interviewed. I don’t really believe in Destiny, but it feels as though I was destined for the job I got. It is that good a fit. I work on an excellent 6th grade  team and we gather every lunch period and eat together. I share the teaching of the Humanities with another teacher (we each get half the kids on our team for a two-hour Humanities block). This could be tricky, but Nina and I work incredibly well together.

The instructional shifts that were happening in elementary are also happening in middle school. In the summer, I attended a TCRWP inservice as middle school teacher shifted how writing instruction was happening. The 6th grade teachers at my school made this our learning team project and we’ve been working through TCRWP’s Units of Study. It’s been work but we are learning how to make it fit our kids.

I am wrapping up my Morris Committee work by rereading our five finalists. I will go back to work for only four days next week, then go to Boston where we will decide on the winner. It has been an incredible year. I’ve met great authors and committee members. I’ve thought about literature in a new way. I will miss the work, but I am looking forward to some free range reading, too.

Last year I was a round 2 YA nonfiction judge for the CYBILS Award and I will repeat that again this year. The finalists will be announced on January 1st ad that’s when my work begins.


Some unexpected shifts happened. I lost my dad in late July and my dog, Fiona, in November.


I’d hoped Fiona would make it other 15th birthday in February. And you always think your parents will live forever.

I wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Best wishes for 2016!

Finding your métier

28 Dec

I’ve been teaching since 1988. That’s 27 years of teaching and I finally feel like I’m good at it. It took me a long time to feel that way. Since the elimination of my library job, I felt like I was floundering a bit, so I took a risk and changed jobs, and four months into it, I feel like I’ve found my footing again.

Métier is a French word that is often translated as your job, trade, profession, or occupation, but it carries more weight than those English words. The French word implies that you are good at it. You’ve probably seen some versions of these

Unknown-1 Unknown

Whatever you would insert in front of  “is my Superpower” is probably your métier.

In looking for books about basset hounds, I came a cross two books that show two very similar characters and their very similar métiers. They could, in fact, almost be before and after books.

In Job Wanted,  written by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Chris Sheban,


a homeless dog arrives on a farm, looking for a job, but is turned away by the farmer , who does not need a dog. The dog offers to be a cow, horse, and chicken. He shows up each morning to demonstrate his talents, but the farmer always says no. It isn’t until the dog scares off a fox that the farmer realizes how valuable the dog can be. It is a little bittersweet, but ends on a hopeful note.

In Ragweed’s Farm DogHandbook written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy,


it seems that we are meeting the evolved dog from Job Wanted. Ragweed, a farm dog, explains the jobs that roosters, pigs, chickens, sheep, and cows do. Each explanation is followed by the refrain, “That’s their job. That’s not your job.” Ragweed then tells you what happens if you do their job and the biscuits that eventually result. Because that is the farm dog’s job: TO GET BISCUITS! This book is funny and, living with a basset hound who can manipulate me into giving her treats with just a look, I assure you it is very realistic.



YALSA’s 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in #2

27 Dec


The rereading of the Morris Award finalists continues. I can’t believe it is only 12 days until I go to Boston.


I finished Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War  by Steve Sheinkin. It is interesting that it all took place during my childhood. I remember bits of it in the news, but never really put it all together.

Most Dangerous

I also read This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain.


I never really gave Mr. Audubon much thought. Although I’ve read a few novels in which he is featured, I just sort of imagined him in a studio, painting. This Strange Wilderness really sheds light on the struggles he had to simply make the paintings and what it took to get the book published. This book feels much more like a  traditional biography than Most Dangerous, but it is very well-written and researched and, reading it, I got a real feel for the times in which Mr Audubon lived.

I have two of the other three books checked out from the library.I’ve already read these, but will reread them with a more critical eye. The third is on hold ad, of course, it is the one I haven’t read. I’m hoping to get it this week.

My Jólabókaflóð

26 Dec

You’ve probably seen one of these memes over the last few days or weeks.



I am at an age and stage in my life when the getting and giving of books is the most fun part of Christmas. On the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, I like to share what I gave and what I got.

My twin sister learned to knit socks this year, so I gave her one of my favorite sock knitting books,  Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush. The introductory chapters give good information about sock construction which are followed by beautiful patterns based on older patterns.


Throughout the year, I sent my sister some of the books I’d received for the Morris Committee. I am not allowed to sell them and so I sent her the some of the best that didn’t get nominated. I also did a bog book giveaway at work, reducing my stash from six boxes to two, that I will donate to a local library. I saved one of them for my sister for Christmas, Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen.


Publisher Summary: Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

My brother-in-law has eclectic tastes that include an interest in the Dada movement and avant-garde art. So, I got him a collection of essays on modern art, Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art by Julian Barnes.


Publisher’s Summary: As Julian Barnes notes: “Flaubert believed that it was impossible to explain one art form in terms of another, and that great paintings required no words of explanation. Braque thought the ideal state would be reached when we said nothing at all in front of a painting . . . But it is a rare picture that stuns, or argues, us into silence. And if one does, it is only a short time before we want to explain and understand the very silence into which we have been plunged.”

This is the exact dynamic that informs his new book. In his 1989 novel A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, Barnes had a chapter on Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa,and since then he has written about many great masters of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, including Delacroix, Manet, Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, Degas, Redon, Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton, Braque, Magritte, Oldenburg, Lucian Freud and Howard Hodgkin. The seventeen essays gathered here help trace the arc from Romanticism to Realism and into Modernism; they are adroit, insightful and, above all, a true pleasure to read.

For my 17-year-old niece who reads everything, I got The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough.


Publisher’s Summary: Flora and Henry were born a few blocks from each other, innocent of the forces that might keep a white boy and an African-American girl apart; years later they meet again and their mutual love of music sparks an even more powerful connection. But what Flora and Henry don’t know is that they are pawns in a game played by the eternal adversaries Love and Death, here brilliantly reimagined as two extremely sympathetic and fascinating characters. Can their hearts and their wills overcome not only their earthly circumstances, but forces that have battled throughout history? In the rainy Seattle of the 1920’s, romance blooms among the jazz clubs, the mansions of the wealthy, and the shanty towns of the poor. But what is more powerful: love? Or death?

On a side note, I wanted to share with you the banner from Brockenbrough’s webpage,


For my birthday, I got Tim Wynne Jones’ newest novel,  The Emperor of Any Place.


Publisher’s Summary:When Evan’s father dies suddenly, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his dad had been reading when he passed away. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? What is in this account that Evan’s grandfather, whom Evan has never met before, fears so much that he will do anything to prevent its being seen? And what could this possibly mean for Evan? In a pulse-quickening mystery evoking the elusiveness of truth and the endurance of wars passed from father to son, this engrossing novel is a suspenseful, at times terrifying read from award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones.

The last half of this year was a little hard because of the loss of my dad and Fiona. My sister, who lost our father and her mother-in-law within weeks of each other, walked into her local book shop and ran into a friend. When her friend heard about my sister’s losses, she recommended this book, They Left Us Everything:  A Memoir by Plum Johnson.


Publisher’s Summary:After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,  and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson  and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when  their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved  family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three  rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving  but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a  handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated,  extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes  her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger  memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake  Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her  reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were  and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything  is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving  family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the  future.

So, I will be holed up for the next few days (weeks?) reading these and the books I have to read for various commitments. I will probably ring in the 2016 with a book in my hand.



My favorite Christmas Eve tradition

24 Dec

My favorite Christmas Eve tradition is watching A Christmas Carol, the 1951 movie featuring Alastair Sim as Mr. Scrooge.

This is, in my opinion, the very best of the many versions out there, and is very faithful the book in word and spirit. I will turn off all the lights and watch it, snuggled in a blanket and sipping some hot cocoa or tea.

For a fun, but less traditional version, you can’t go wrong with The Muppet Christmas Carol featuring Michael Caine as Mr. Scrooge and Kermit as Bob Cratchit.

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas Eve. Remember….there’s only one more sleep ’til Christmas.



A Turnip Tale: A Slice of Life Story

22 Dec


Holiday dinners were always exciting to set up, when I was a kid. We’d eat at the dining room table, and at the kitchen table , and sometimes had to add a card table in the living room. I loved getting out “the good silver” and reviewing where each of the forks and spoons went before setting them at each place. It all looked so festive.

The house always smelled great, usually of turkey, and the kitchen windows were always steamy. My mother never assigned seats, although she would tell you which table you were to sit at. But I always knew where my seat was because mine was the plate with raw turnip slices.

I don’t know why we always had mashed turnip at Christmas. When I saw turnip, American friends, you need to visualize a rutabaga. Growing up in southern Ontario, this was what we called a turnip, both the purple and white thing.


Have you ever tasted mashed turnips? I don’t recommend them. They look like orange mashed potatoes, but are horribly bitter and no amount of butter could make them palatable to me. I couldn’t abide the taste, but there was no way I’d be let off the hook. So, as my mother prepared the Christmas meal, she would set aside a few slices of uncooked turnip for me and I would happily munch on these while everyone else ate the mashed monstrosity.

Unknown-1  images

Now, as an adult, I eat neither turnips nor rutabaga. My 84-year-old mom no longer hosts big family gathering. And I bet that none of my siblings serve mashed turnips at their holiday feasts.

I cried this morning

21 Dec

Darn that Patricia Polacco! She knows how to make me cry.

I sat down this morning and read An A from Miss Keller, her latest book about the influence a teacher had on her.


Publisher’s Summary: How did Patricia Polacco become a writer?

A perfect companion to the classic Thank You, Mr. FalkerThe Art of Miss Chew, and Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, this book celebrates a teacher who inspired a young Patricia Polacco to become the writer and storyteller she is today.

Trisha is nervous about being chosen for Miss Keller’s writing class. “Killer Keller” demands that her students dazzle her with their writing, and rumor has it that she has never given an A. The rumors turn out to be all too true—there’s just no pleasing Miss Keller. Then an unexpected loss leaves Trisha heartbroken. Thoughts of teachers and grades forgotten, she pours out her soul in a personal narrative. And when Miss Keller reads it, she tells Trisha, “You’ve given your words wings.”

I received a lot of cards from students in the last week of school. Most kids just signed their name. Some added a holiday greeting, but a few of them wrote very kind words and commented on how much better they’ve become as a writer. I got a little terry-eyed.

I don’t want to be Miss Keller, but I would love to be as inspirational as she is.

YALSA’s 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in

20 Dec


School ended Friday and now I have two fantastic weeks stretching out before me. I have some plans to knit myself a pair of gloves, read a stack of books and generally lounge about.

Yesterday, I started reading Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.

Most Dangerous

Like the other books Sheinkin has written, this is extremely readable nonfiction, which I suppose is why it is a YALSA nonfiction finalist, a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature finalist and on several end of the year “best” lists.

Publisher’s Summary: From Steve Sheinkin, the award-winning author of The Port Chicago 50 and Bomb comes a tense, exciting exploration of what the Times deemed “the greatest story of the century”: how Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into “the most dangerous man in America,” and risked everything to expose the government’s deceit. On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicans claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children’s nonfiction.

I think what makes this even more compelling is the fact that  Sheinkin wraps it up by bringing the issues central to the Vietnam War crisis up to the present day story of Edward Snowden. Yeah, I peeked at the ending. But, to justify my peeking, the back of the arc I have says

“Forty years before Edward Snowden and Julain Assange were household names, Daniel Ellsberg became the first large-scale government whistleblower. He would be called a hero, a traitor, and, by some, “the most dangerous man in America”.

If you, or someone you know, enjoys nonfiction, this is an excellent choice.


17 Dec

Like the students I teach, I’m rereading a lot right now. They are rereading Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and  The Call of the Wild. We hit literary essay writing pretty hard the last few weeks, so, instead of having them write a paper, they are creating an info graphic to compare and contrast the two stories.  Core 1 cheered when I told them. They are drawing and cutting and leafing through both stories, looking for their text evidence.

I’m rereading the 2016 William C. Morris YA  Debut Award Finalists.


It’s only three weeks until I leave for Boston, where the committee will choose the best of these five to win the award. If you haven’t read them yet, take some time over the break (if you get one) and read them because they are all fantastic.

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda written by Becky Albertalli, published by Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Conviction written by Kelly Loy Gilbert, published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group
  • The Weight of Feathers written by Anna-Marie McLemore, published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly written by Stephanie Oakes, published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers
  • Because You’ll Never Meet Me written by Leah Thomas, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books


%d bloggers like this: