Archive | November, 2016

Busy reading weekend

14 Nov

Since I spent most of the weekend letting my knee recover, I had a lot of time to read and knit. I read three print books and listened to two audiobooks and almost finished a pair of socks. The perks of a knee injury.

One of the books I listened to was The Sun is Also  Star by Nicola Yoon.


Publisher’s Summary:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Another great bit of bibliotherapy.

The universe seems to be bringing Natasha & Daniel together and apart and you can’t help rooting for both of them.

I met Nicola Yoon at an ALA dinner in San Francisco. Her first move, Everything, Everything was about to be published  and she was one of 4 authors promoting their work. It was a wonderful novel and I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet. Warning: neither are suitable for middle grade audiences. They are clearly YA.

The story is narrated in two voices, Natasha’s & Daniel’s and unfolds over the course of a single day. As each shares part of their story, you can’t help but fall in love with them. Their narration is punctuated by the Universe telling details about side characters or facts. It could have become didactic, but it is really effective.

Yoon’s sophomore novel is even better than her first!



13 Nov

It’s been a tough week.

Last Sunday I tore my meniscus.

Tuesday’s election results weren’t what I had hoped they’d be.

And Thursday the world learned that Leonard Cohen had passed.

I needed some bibliotherapy.

I found solace in Monika Schröder’s Be Light Like a Bird. 


Publisher’s Summary:After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she’s ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don’t seem to deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

This is a book that quotes Paul Valéry and Leonard Cohen!

The title comes from the Valéry quote meaning we need to determine our own future and fly like a bird, not let ourselves drift like a feather.

“One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.” / ”Il faut être léger comme l’oiseau, et non comme la plume”

 Yes, this was just what I needed and it will be my book talk on Monday, and here’s why.

First of all, I loved Wren. Told in the first person from Wren’s point of view, her voice just sounds so authentic, I felt like I really knew this girl and would have been her friend when I was her age. I wasn’t one of the popular girls, either. I felt her pain and grief and wished someone would help her deal with her grief.

I loved her friendship with Theo. I love middle grade because the romance doesn’t get in the way of the real story. Their relationship unfolded in a way that felt realistic for middle school kids.

I loved the fact that she and Theo become teen activists. As this is our next writing unit, I am very excited to share this with my students.

I loved the realistic portrayal of  grief: Wren’s, her mother’s, Theo’s, and his dad’s. We see the range of ways people deal with bereavement. It is complicated, messy and uncomfortable, but it is real.

Yeah, the ending maybe wrapped up just a little too perfectly, but I needed that this week. If you are feeling some grief these days, you might benefit from reading this book, too.

You might also benefit from a little Leonard Cohen. Four lines of “Anthem” are quoted in Light Like a Bird”, but I thought you might like to hear all of it. 






Lest we forget

11 Nov

I shared this video on this day last year. It still makes me tear up.

When I was in grade 6, Mrs. MacMillan read us the story of Padre John Foote. She always called him that. She had  a detailed story that I have long sought, but never found. I would like to share the citation that was read when he was awarded the Victoria Cross,  the highest award of the United Kingdom honours system. It is awarded for gallantry “in the face of the enemy” to members of the British armed forces.



14th February, 1946.


The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: —

Honorary Captain John Weir FOOTE, Canadian Chaplain Services.

At Dieppe, on 19th August, 1942, Honorary Captain Foote, Canadian Chaplain Services, was Regimental Chaplain with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

Upon landing on the beach under heavy fire he attached himself to the Regimental Aid Post which had been set up in a slight depression on the beach, but which was only sufficient to give cover to men lying down. During the subsequent period of approximately eight hours, while the action continued, this officer not only assisted the Regimental Medical Officer in ministering to the wounded in the Regimental Aid Post, but time and again left this shelter to inject morphine, give first-aid and carry wounded personnel from the open beach to the Regimental Aid Post. On these occasions, with utter disregard for his personal safety, Honorary Captain Foote exposed himself to an inferno of fire and saved many lives by his gallant efforts. During the action, as the tide went out, the Regimental Aid Post was moved to the shelter of a stranded landing craft. Honorary Captain Foote continued tirelessly and courageously to carry wounded men from the exposed beach to the cover of the landing craft. He also removed wounded from inside the landing craft when ammunition had been set on fire by enemy shells. When landing craft appeared he carried wounded from the Regimental Aid Post to the landing craft through very heavy fire.

On several occasions this officer had the opportunity to embark but returned to the beach as his chief concern was the care and evacuation of the wounded. He refused a final opportunity to leave the shore, choosing to suffer the fate of the men he had ministered to for over three years.

Honorary Captain Foote personally saved many lives by his efforts and his example inspired all around him. Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic officer, as he walked about, collecting the wounded on the fire-swept beach will never be forgotten.


This week’s book talks

10 Nov

Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day in the US, but in my heart, it is still Remembrance Day. I’ve been wearing the poppy I knit last year on my school lanyard.


Students had a three-day week, so I only book talked three books, all set during the Great War.


Publisher’s Summary: The Great War is a powerful collection of stories by bestselling authors, each inspired by a different object from the First World War. From a soldier’s writing case to the nose of a Zeppelin bomb, each object illuminates an aspect of life during the war, and each story reminds us of the millions of individual lives that were changed forever by the four years of fighting. This remarkable book is illustrated by the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning Jim Kay. Featuring new work from: ** AL Kennedy ** Tracy Chevalier ** Michael Morpurgo ** David Almond ** Marcus Sedgwick ** Adele Geras ** Ursula Dubosarsky ** John Boyne ** Timothée de Fombelle ** Sheena Wilkinson ** Tanya Lee Stone **


Publisher’s Summary: The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield’s father promised he wouldn’t go away to fight—but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn’t know where his father might be, other than that he’s away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King’s Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father’s name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn’t sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . .



Publisher’s Summary:  The Spanish influenza is devastating the East Coast—but Cleo Berry knows it is a world away from the safety of her home in Portland, Oregon. Then the flu moves into the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode—and into a panic.

Seventeen-year-old Cleo is told to stay put in her quarantined boarding school, but when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she cannot ignore the call for help. In the grueling days that follow her headstrong decision, she risks everything for near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?


If it’s not one thing, it’s another

8 Nov

I was slipping my right shoe off, toe to heel, as most people do, when I heard (and felt) a “pop” in my left knee.Pain filled my knee as I tried to stand.

Why me?Why now? I thought. I just got through the car crisis of last week.  For those of you who read last week’s post, I had to replace my catalytic converter. Ka-Ching!

I had just come in from walking Lucy before heading out the door to an Oregon Basset Hound Rescue meeting and Sunday Brunch. Not great timing for a knee situation.

I hopped to a chair and considered my options. I Googled knee injuries. Based on my symptoms it was 50/50 as to whether I should see a doctor. I decided to go to the meeting, then the doctor. I hopped to the closet where I stored the crutches leftover from an ankle sprain several years ago, then headed out the door.

When I finally saw a  doctor, he manipulated my knee and declared it an “internal knee derangement” and possibly a meniscus injury. He told me to do the things I already knew to do: the PRICE treatment (Protect Rest Ice Compression Elevation), referred me for physiotherapy and to an orthopedist.

The crutches are torture and I’ve only been on them 2 days. Fortunately, my teaching partner met me at the doors of our school with a wheelchair and wheeled me to my classroom, where I spent the day on my rolling chair.

It hurts less today. I can almost straighten it and I can put my foot flat on the floor (though I’m not ready to also put pressure) so I hope I am not on crutches too long. Please indulge whatever practice you prefer: pray for me, cross your fingers, send positive energy. This 50-year-old is too old for crutches.


On the Run

7 Nov

Jason Reynold’s Ghost isn’t about anything scary. At least not in the haunted house sense.


Publisher’s Summary:Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

Ghost makes some bad decisions and at first, I found him a little hard to like. But, just as Coach took the time to get to know him in the book, I took the time to get to know him and was glad I did. He has a lot of anger bottled up inside and it doesn’t always come out in a good way. Fortunately, he stumbles into track and it might just be the making of him.

At 181 pages it is a quick read. I don’t know when the rest of the books about the team come out, but I will be looking for them.

This week’s book talks

6 Nov

No theme to the book talks I gave this week. Just good books.








Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

4 Nov


Author’s Summary: Gertie Reece Foy is 100% Not-from-Concentrate Awesome.

Which is why she’s dumbfounded by her mother’s plan to move away from their coastal Alabama town, leaving Gertie with her father and Great-Aunt Rae. Most kids would be upset about this. But Gertie is absolutely not upset, because she has a plan. She’s going to become the greatest fifth grader in the universe!

All she needs to do is: write the best summer speech (after she finds Zombie Frog), become the smartest student in her class (if her best friend, Jean the Jean-ius, doesn’t mind), and win the lead part in the play (so long as a Swiss-Chocolate meltdown doesn’t mess things up).

There’s just one problem: Seat-stealing new girl, Mary Sue, wants to be the best fifth grader, too. And there’s simply not enough room at the top for the two of them.

Gertie, like Ramona (with whom she has been compared)  and Clementine, tries to do good but her plans always seem to have unanticipated consequences. All of her problems aren’t solved, but she comes to enough of understanding about them to leave the reader satisfied. This would be a great book for fans of Clementine who are ready for a slightly thicker, more challenging read.

The illustrations in the book are by the fabulous Jillian Tamaki.



Inspired to change the world

3 Nov

Last summer, after checking the weather on the three sites I have bookmarked, I checked the news on the TV station website. Scrolling to the bottom, I encountered a segment called Kids Doing Good Stuff. I clicked on it and discovered an interview with a teenaged Board Member of YES (Youth Ending Slavery).


YES is an entirely student-led nonprofit based in Portland, OR. Their mission is to combat modern-day slavery by raising awareness about its prevalence in the world and empowering youth to be advocates for change.

It felt like I’d hit the jackpot because we do a Model UN and one of our writing units is about teen activists.

Yesterday, we had two representatives come and speak to our 6th graders.



WOW, were these teenaged presenters prepared. We were the youngest group they’d ever presented to and they tailored their talk to our students.  Although they mentioned sexual human trafficking, they really focused on labor issues. They shared statistics that shocked me as well as my students, who were surprised at how young people can be recruited, even to work in hard labor.

They made one presentation before lunch and another afterwards. They joined us for pizza with our POWER leaders (6th grade leadership students) in between the two talks.

Both groups were completely engaged and inspired. Slavery might not become the topic they are passionate about, but these two teens really inspired them to become involved in making the world a better place.

“One child, one teacher, one pen, one book can change the world” – Malala Yousafzai

Trouble comes in threes

1 Nov

The maint req light was the first sign that trouble was brewing.

It wasn’t a big deal, really. It was just an indication that it was time for an oil change.


When I bought my little red Corolla 10 years earlier, I got lifetime oil changes for $100.00. Best deal ever. They no longer offer that service. The down side of the service is I have to schedule an appointment, so I started thinking about days when that would be convenient.

But then, on Saturday, I noticed something funny under the front drover’s side. The corner of the plastic “pan” that sits at the base of the car was hanging low. Weird. I pushed it up with my toes and it seemed to pop back into place. All seemed well until I was driving down the highway Sunday and heard a weird thumpy sound. I feared it had come loose again and was dragging on the ground a I sped along. I pulled over at the next exit and took a look. It had definitely come loose again, but was probably only vibrating, not dragging. I popped it back in place, dirtying my hands in the process, and drove home nervously, scheduling an appointment for Thursday once I arrived.

Monday,  I drove to school, hoping to hear no thumping. I had checked the “pan” before leaving and it seemed secure. I was anxious driving, fearing I’d need to pull over. About half way to work, the third bit of trouble occurred: the check engine light came on. Really!

I checked the manual once I got to work. A yellow light, which I had, was better than a red light. It wasn’t urgent, but should be looked at. It could be as simple as a loose gas cap. Or something more serious.

My appointment is Thursday afternoon. I will drop the car off in the morning, and the dealership will drive me to work in their shuttle. I will worry all day, awaiting the call to tell me what is up. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.




Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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