Archive | August, 2016

My Mother’s Hands

16 Aug


My mother cupped the apple gently in her hands. My sister and I sat on the vinyl kitchen chairs, our little legs dangling as our eyes, wide with anticipation, stared at my mother’s hands. Her eyes met ours and we wriggled in our seats and gripped the sides of the chair in excitement. Like a magician, my mother moved her hands, cupping the apple in one hand and covering it with the other. She looked at us again, eyebrows raised as if asking if we were ready. We legs swung like pendulums as she gripped the apple and twisted her hands.

“Voilà!” she cried as she showed us the apple, now in two parts. Our little hands reached out for our portion of the magical apple as our legs finally stilled, anticipation sated.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about mother’s hands. They seemed to possess superhero powers when I was a child. I have inherited her small hands, but not their superpowers. And the little power they possess seems to be failing me.

I first noticed it opening a jar of tomato sauce. My little fingers have always struggled to get a good grip, but it is getting harder and harder to open jars. More recently, the struggle has included resealable packages. Why are they so hard to reopen after squeezing that little zipper closed? I worry about what will fail me next.

My super human mother, now 85, is shrinking. She uses a walker and cuts her apples with a knife now. When I talk to her about how my 51-year-old body is failing me, she merely replies, “It doesn’t get any better, dear.”




Every Single Second

15 Aug

A few days ago, I was talking with a friend about Michael Phelps’ Olympic awesomeness. She started talking about what a great role model he was. He had messed up, owned his  problems, accepted the consequences, worked to fix his problems and rebuilt his career. What  a fabulous lesson for kids. Few of them will be a Michael Phelps, but even ordinary people need to learn this important lesson.

The characters in Tricia Springstubb’s Every Single Second are very ordinary. Things happen. Decisions are made, or not made, every single second. And some of them have long-lasting consequences. But, at the heart of this story is the lesson that Michael Phelps has demonstrated: you can work hard, accept you faults, accept the consequences and just maybe, you can start rebuilding what you once had.  Not every problem in the book is solved. We are, however,  left with the  knowledge that choosing kindness and forgiveness rather than hate and retaliation, is the better path by far. A thoughtful book for upper elementary & middle school readers.


Goodreads Summary: A single second. That’s all it takes to turn a world upside down.

Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.

Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her.

Tricia Springstubb’s extraordinary novel is about the shifting bonds of friendship and the unconditional love of family, the impact of class and racial divides on a neighborhood and a city, and a girl awakening to awareness of a world bigger and more complex than she’d ever imagined.

Calling all thinking girls

14 Aug

My brother in law’s friend one described someone (Debbie Gibson?)  as “the thinking girl’s Tiffany”. The phrase has stuck with me through the decades. It recently popped back into mind with David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars.

This is such a fun book, full of the adventure and the chaste romance you would expect of a Regency novel, but it is set on Mars. Thinking girls just want to have fun, too!


Publisher’s Summary:Since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, he proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in a flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby, a young woman who is perfectly content growing up in the untamed frontier. But days spent working on complex automata with her father or stalking her brother Michael with her Martian nanny is not the proper behavior of an English lady. That is something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

However, when events transpire that threaten her home on Mars, Arabella decides that sometimes doing the right thing is far more important than behaving as expected. She disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of theDiana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company, where she meets a mysterious captain who is intrigued by her knack with clockwork creations. Now Arabella just has to weather the naval war currently raging between Britain and France, learn how to sail, and deal with a mutinous crew…if she hopes to save her family remaining on Mars.

Arabella of Mars, the debut novel by Hugo-winning author David D. Levine offers adventure, romance, political intrigue, and Napoleon in space!

It reminded me of a lot of books and series I like. It has the “dress up as a boy and go on an adventure during the Napoleonic wars” adventure of the Jackie Farber seriesIt has adventure in space like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. It is an alternative history like Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. And, it is by a local Portland author.  Although I started y talking about thinking girls enjoying this book, I can think of a number of boys in last year’s class that would enjoy reading Arabella of Mars. 

This might be one of my favorite  reads of the summer and I think it would be highly appropriate for the kids I teach. It might be one of my first book talks of the year.




No one ever said life was fair

12 Aug

“No one ever said life was fair,” was my mother’s standard response when I commented on the fairness, or more likely, unfairness, of something. In Elana K. Arnold’s Far From Fair, 


12-year-old Odette Zyskoski feels that her parents are making a lot of unfair decisions. She has to sell most of her possessions in a garage sale because her parents have sold their house and bought an RV. She has to give up her cell phone and the family will share one. Things are not looking very hopeful.

Publisher’s Summary: Odette has a list: Things That Aren’t Fair. At the top of the list is her parents’ decision to take the family on the road in an ugly RV they’ve nicknamed the Coach. There’s nothing fair about leaving California and living in the Coach with her par­ents and exasperating brother. And there’s definitely nothing fair about Grandma Sissy’s failing health, and the painful realities and difficult decisions that come with it. Most days it seems as if everything in Odette’s life is far from fair but does it have to be?

With warmth and sensitivity Elana Arnold makes difficult topics such as terminal illness and the right to die accessible to young readers and apt for discussion.

Odette starts off as a grumpy middle-schooler. Over the course of the book we see her become less self-centered and more mature. In spite of all the bad things happening in Odette’s life, the book is hopeful and ends in a good, realistic way.  Like many people, Odette can objectively see that her  negative attitude is a problem. We see her struggle and learn to manage her feelings. When her  mother drops the family phone into the water, Odette doesn’t think she has any right to be upset because of her grandmother’s situation. Her mother acknowledges that it’s still okay to be upset about small things.

The book tackles big issues of economic hardship and the right to die effectively, without being preachy. Readers don’t have to like or agree with everything, but they will be left with some things to think about.

Success and Survival

11 Aug


I was excited to pick up Stacey Lee’s sophomore novel Outrun the Moon.  I’d read her debut novel, Under a Painted Sky, as part of my Morris committee work, but can’t comment on it.


Suffice it to say, I was excited to pick up Stacey Lee’s sophomore novel Outrun the Moon. 

I teach gifted sixth graders who read well above their age level. Sometimes it is hard to find YA novels that are appropriate for 11 year olds. Many have rather mature content. So it is refreshing to find books that are written for an older audience, address important issues AND are suitable for a 6th grade classroom. Both Stacy Lee’s historical fiction novels meet those criteria. Both feature strong Chinese-American female protagonists, also excellent for my majority minority classroom. While Under a Painted Sky  centered on the Oregon Trail, Outrun the Moon is asset during the San Francisco earthquake of  1906.

Publisher’s Summary: San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. Now she’s forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

An engaging story about what it takes to succeed and survive.

A two hug day

9 Aug

I am not a hugger.

And yet, Saturday found me hugging two strangers.

When I pulled into the rest area, they were already there. We’d arranged to meet at 2:00, but the dog and his dad had arrived a little early. Dad was moving and couldn’t take Cooper to the new apartment so he’d reached out to Oregon Basset Hound Rescue to help him find a good home. I’d done a home visit recently for a family I though would be perfect. The meet and greet was the Saturday before. Monday and Tuesday saw vet appointments and neutering. Today was the hand-off.

The adopting family pulled in a little later. There was some chit chat, but I could see Dad getting anxious. The new family took Cooper off for a long walk. Dad’s signal to go. He stood there for a while watching them go and the tears welled in his eye. His girlfriend who had come long for moral support, hugged him tight. I said some words meant to comfort

He’ll have two sisters.

They’ll send pictures.

I’ll let you know how he’s doing.

He’ll master the dog door in no time.

Were those words to make him feel better, or me? This is always the hard part. Tears welled in my eyes, too, watching this young man “do the right thing” but knowing how much it hurt him.

Finally, he pulled away from his girlfriend and turned to thank me for helping. And then he hugged me.

On the way home, I stopped at my local grocery store to pick up a few things I needed.  Busy for a Friday, I thought, then realized it was Saturday.  Is it this busy every Saturday afternoon? I wondered because I never shop on Saturdays.

As I lined up to pay for my items, I gleaned that a computer glitch had shut down the registers for a while, causing the backup. I’d found a line that seemed as long as the others, but full of people with small carts, half full.

The clerk at my register was familiar to me. I’ve shopped at this store for the last 18 years and know the clerks by sight, if not by name. When my turn finally came he thanked me for my patience and proceeded to tell ma about a man with anger management issues who had come through earlier. We talked about the similarities in our jobs dealing with difficult people. And then he hugged me.

I drove home remarking on my two hug day.



Hello Grumpy!

8 Aug

I am a morning person and wake up cheerful. Alas, some days, the world conspires to make you grumpy. Other people wake up grumpy. I feel sorry for them, because it is a burden they have to overcome everyday.


In the book Grumpy Pants, written and illustrated by Claire Messer, we do not know the source of Penguin’s grumpiness.


With each turn of the page we see Penguin try to take control of his grumpiness, shedding its layers as he sheds his clothes.


He has a strategy for dealing with these feelings and readers can laugh as he makes his way towards the bath and hot chocolate that will was away the grumpiness.

It’s a good lesson for readers, regardless of age. The book is simple, with sparse words and pictures that deal effectively with an emotion we all feel.


The thrill of victory…

7 Aug

…the agony of defeat.

Growing up, many a Saturday was spent watching Wide World of Sports. Its opening became  an iconic sports meme for me long before the Internet was flooded with them.

I’ve been thinking about this intro as the Olympics begin.

There are lots of ways spectators can participate without flying to Rio. Knitters can join the Ravellinic Games on Ravelry, where there is only one rule:

The One Rule To Rule Them All: Challenge yourself by starting and finishing one or more projects during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

There are actual events such as the Mitten Medley, WIPs Wrestling, Sock Put and Synchronized Spinning. Although I am madly working on a WIP (Work in Progress) I am not participating in the Ravellinics. Too much pressure to perform.

I am however, reading a sports themed book!


Publisher’s Summary:

I am Lou Brown:

Social outcast, precocious failure, 5’10” and still growing.

I was on the fast track to the Olympic superstardom.

Now, I’m training boys too cool to talk to me. In a sport I just made up. In a fish tank.

My life has quickly become very weird.

Nat Luurtsema’s YA debut is side-splittingly funny and painfully true to anyone who’s just trying to figure out how they fit into the world.

Goodreads gives a little more detail.

Goodreads Sumary: Lou Brown is one of the fastest swimmers in the county. She’s not boasting, she really is. So things are looking pretty rosy the day of the Olympic time-trials. With her best mate Hannah by her side, Lou lines up by the edge of the pool, snaps her goggles on and bends into her dive…

Everything rests on this race. It’s Lou’s thing.

… or it was. She comes dead last and to top it all off Hannah sails through leaving a totally broken Lou behind.

Starting again is never easy, particularly when you’re the odd-one out in a family of insanely beautiful people and a school full of social groups way too intimidating to join. Where do you go from here? Finding a new thing turns out to be the biggest challenge Lou’s ever faced and opens up a whole new world of underwater somersaults, crazy talent shows, bitchy girls and a great big load of awkward boy chat.

Lou Brown guides us through the utter humiliation of failure with honesty, sass and a keen sense of the ridiculous. This girl will not be beaten.

This book was first published in the UK as Girl out of Water.


In France, it is Moi et les Aquaboys.


No matter what language you read it in, this is a funny and poignant novel about what happens after the agony of defeat.

Innocence corrupted

5 Aug

When we first meet Pierrot Fischer, he is a sweet 7-year-old, small for his age, bullied by bigger boys, but certain in his friendship with Anshel. His father disappears and dies. When his mother dies, he moves in with Anshel’s family temporarily.  Because pre-WWII France is not an easy place for Jews, Anshel’s mother finds a place for him in an orphanage, where he stays until he is claimed by his long-lost German aunt. When he joins her in Austria, Pierrot’s eyes are opened to a new world and we see him evolve into someone far less likable.


Publisher’s Summary: When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

What I, and his Aunt,  found most terrifying is the ease with which Pierrot is turned from sweet boy to Nazi thug. She calls him on his behavior.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t spend so much time with the Führer from now on,” she said, finally turning around to look at her nephew.

“But why not?”

“He’s a very busy man.”

“He’s a very busy man who says he sees great potential in me,” said Pierrot proudly. “Besides we talk about interesting things. And he listens to me.”

“I listen to you, Pieter,” said Beatrix.

“That’s different.”

Pierrot gets caught up in the uniforms and the power he begins to feel, turning the small bullied boy into a bully. He does some terrible things. When the war ends, he claims that he was only a child and didn’t really understand, but Herta, a maid in the house, calls him out, claiming he knew what was going on.

“You have many years ahead of you to come to terms with your complicity in these matters.Just don;t ever tall yourself that you didn’t know.” She released him now from her grip. “That would be the worst crime of all.”

We see that the post war years are emotionally difficult for Pierrot but the ending brings some catharsis.

As with Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the reader requires some background knowledge to truly understand what appears, on the surface, to be a simple book.  But it is a book worth reading.

A step in the right direction

4 Aug

It’s August, so my mind is turning back towards school. I have my first training  of the 2016-17 school year today, a presentation by Kelly Gallagher. It will be fun to see colleagues again and go out for lunch, and generally start getting ready to go back to school. I am ready to change direction.

In her graphic novel, Compass South, Hope Larson;s characters have t change direction, too.


Publisher’s Summary: It’s 1860 in New York City. When 12-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, they join the Black Hook Gang and are caught by the police pulling off a heist. They agree to reveal the identity of the gang in exchange for tickets to New Orleans. But once there, Alex is shanghaied to work on a ship that is heading for San Francisco via Cape Horn. Cleo stows away on a steamer to New Granada where she hopes to catch a train to San Francisco to find her brother. Neither Alexander nor Cleo realizes the real danger they are in-they are being followed by pirates who think they hold the key to treasure. How they outwit the pirates and find each other makes for a fast-paced, breathtaking adventure.

This is the first book in a series entitled Four Points and is really quite engaging. The second book, Knife’s Edge, is due out in June 2017 and I am looking forward to reading it. This series would be perfect for readers in grades 4-7, who love adventure.


As I sit  here this morning, sipping my coffee and gearing up for the day, I feel like a ship, changing course in a very calm ocean. August is the month where that transition happens. Rolling home, back to work. Here’s a little musical interlude from one of my favorite Scottish bands that sort of sums up how I am feeling these days.



Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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