Archive | January, 2017

On my way to ALA #alamw17

20 Jan


Today is mostly a travel day.

Lucy was dropped off at Sniff Dog Hotel last night.



She was sad & trembly, which made me sad, but I know she will be well cared for and have a good time. We arrived as people were picking up their dogs from daycare. I hope Lucy greets me as excitedly as the dogs we saw greeted their people.

When I got home from dropping her off, I  had dinner and packed my bag.

I was up very early this morning to make my 5:45 flight. I’ve never been to Atlanta. I was supposed to go to an NCTM conference there over 10 years ago, but a recurrence of a MRSA infection kept me grounded. My doctor said no flying, so I didn’t get to go.

I won’t get to see much of the city, but I have a reception Friday night at World of Coca Cola (thank you Penguin Random House). I hope to have some good meals, hear about some great books and meet some authors.

I packed  Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz for the flights to Atlanta.


Stay tuned for my further adventures in Atlanta.

Every breath

19 Jan

I read several books during the snow week we just had, and have written in the past about my Grandmother’s experience in a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Two books I read during my unexpected vacation got me thinking about her again.


The first, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill,  by Megan Shepherd, was not what i was expecting. I thought it was going to be a war story. It is set during the Second World War, and might even be considered an allegory for it. But the real story focuses on the experiences of a young girl in an isolated hospital (which I suspect was a tuberculosis sanatorium) in the English countryside.

Publisher’s Summary:There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospitalthe mirrors that reflect the elegant rooms once home to a princess, now filled with sick children. Only Emmaline can see the creatures. It is her secret.

One morning, Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens and discovers something incredible: a white horse with a broken wing has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

The horse, named Foxfire, is hiding from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep him from finding her new friend, she must surround Foxfire with treasures of brilliant shades. But where can Emmaline find color in a world of gray?

The second made me weep. If you haven’t read When Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi, you must. If you never read nonfiction, you must read this beautiful reflection by a man, a doctor, as he comes to the end of his life.


Publisher’s Summary: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Snow fort

17 Jan

We lived on a dead end. Now, they’d call it a cul-de-sac, but in the ’70’s , it was still a dead end. And it was the beginning of fun for us.

The snow plow that cleared our dead end created giant snow banks at the end of Greenwood Drive, stretching its entire width. With the plow’s job done, ours began.


We claimed an end, and a team, and set to work, collecting the big chunks to create our childish version of  crenellations. At some pint, someone would produce a shovel and then the digging began. In spite of parental warnings against collapsing tunnels, we excavated. I worried more about my second grade teacher’s story about the scar on her lip, given to her by her older brother who accidentally hit her with the cutting edge of the shovel.

The talk was always of a snowball fight to follow, but I don’t recall that ever happening. I do remember acting out stories of our own creation. But mostly I remember building. We lugged the big pieces and packed them tight with snow. It was hard work but, with the sun shining on a winter’s day, it was heaven.

We’d take breaks and go home for a ’70’s lunch of  chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese. In the morning we’d get up to see if our creation was still standing. If the plow had been back, we’d make repairs, then get back to the business of playing.

Hope on MLK Day

16 Jan

The snow that started falling Tuesday is still here. Four homeless people have died from exposure and last night, over 700 people took advantage of Multnomah County warming centers.

Weather forecasters have promised that today is the day we go above zero and the melting begins. I hope I get to go back to work tomorrow.

Today, I am reading Saving Red by Sonya Sones.


Publisher’s Summary:  Right before winter break, fourteen-year-old Molly Rosenberg reluctantly volunteers to participate in Santa Monica’s annual homeless count, just to get her school’s community service requirement out of the way. But when she ends up meeting Red, a spirited homeless girl only a few years older than she is, Molly makes it her mission to reunite her with her family in time for Christmas. This turns out to be extremely difficult—because Red refuses to talk about her past. There are things Molly won’t talk about either. Like the awful thing that happened last winter. She may never be ready to talk about that. Not to Red, or to Cristo, the soulful boy she meets while riding the Ferris wheel one afternoon.

When Molly realizes that the friends who Red keeps mentioning are nothing more than voices inside Red’s head, she becomes even more concerned about her well-being. How will Molly keep her safe until she can figure out a way to get Red home? In Sonya Sones’s latest novel, two girls, with much more in common than they realize, give each other a new perspective on the meaning of family, friendship, and forgiveness.

This is a novel in verse so I expect to finish it today. If it seems age appropriate, I might even book talk it tomorrow.

Teens in crisis

13 Jan

Another day off due to snow. Yes, the downside is that we will have to make them up in June. The upside is that I am well-rested. I have read a lot,  finished a knitting project, and my grading is complete and up to date.  Go me!

In one of the essays I graded, a reflective letter to an author for the Library of Congress’ Letters About Literature contest, a girl reflected on child abuse.

Ever since I was young, I have never presumed that child abuse was a real thing, that happened in day-to-day life. I always knew of the concept, and that some kids got slapped, or spanked, or smacked, but I never believed that anything as serious as what Carley experiences goes on.

She was writing about Linda Mullaly Hunt’s  One For the Murphys. 


Those are the words of a 12-year-old, but it gets to the heart of the matter. Family violence is a secret hidden by its victims.

A. S. King delves into this in her latest novel, Still Life With Tornado.


Publisher’s Summary:Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.

I am an unabashed A. S. King fan, and I think this one is brilliant.

2017 Oregon Book Award finalists

12 Jan

The 2017 Oregon Book Award finalists were announced this week.


The Oregon Book Award winners will be announced at the 30th annual Oregon Book Awards ceremony on Monday, April 24 at the Gerding Theater at the Armory. You can read the complete list of finalists here. The Children’s & YA Lit finalists are listed below.

Judge: Mac Barnett



Kate Berube of Portland, Hannah and Sugar (Abrams Books for Young Readers)






Cathy Camper of Portland, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth (Chronicle Books)







Deborah Hopkinson of West Linn, Steamboat School (Disney * Hyperion)







Kathleen Lane of Portland, The Best Worst Thing (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)








Cynthia Rylant of Portland, The Otter (Beach Lane Books)







Judge: Malinda Lo



Deborah Hopkinson of West Linn, Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark (Scholastic)




Amber J. Keyser of Bend, The Way Back from Broken (Carolrhoda LAB)








David Levine of Portland, Arabella of Mars (Tor)






Eliot Treichel of Eugene, A Series of Small Maneuvers (Ooligan Press)

Another snowy day

11 Jan

I started kindergarten in 1969. I have few memories about it, but this I have are very clear. One of those memories is encountering Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day.


The book spoke to introverted little me, who loved making snow angels.

So, here I am, almost 50 years later, sitting at home after a huge snowfall in Portland, enjoying our 6th snow day of the school year. And I read Andrea Davis Pinkney’s  A Poem for Peter,  which tells the  Ezra Jack Keats biography, focusing on how he created The Snowy Day.


It is a beautiful, poetic tribute to a man and a book. And the perfect thing to read on this snowy day. Pinkney’s poetry fits Portland today:

But when it snowed,

oh, when it snowed!

Nature’s glittery hand

painted the world’s walls a brighter shade.

She connects snow to equality.

Snow made opportunity and equality

seem right around the corner.

Snow doesn’t know who’s needy or dirty

or greedy or nice.

Snow doesn’t choose where to fall.

Snow doesn’t pick a wealthy man’s doorstep

over a poor lady’s stoop.

That’s Snow’s magic.

Snow is magical and it is especially so for children. I hope kids of all ages  in Portland get out and enjoy the snow today. Play, throw snowballs, make snow angels.

But be a snow angel in another way, if you can. Four homeless people have died of exposure in Portland in the last 10 days. Think about them, too. Act if you can. Donate if you can’t act. But do something to help the homeless feel that the snow brings Magic to them, too.

Walking on thin ice

10 Jan

Yet another ice storm. Sigh.

Yet another day off school. Don’t get me wrong, I like a “snow day” as much as the next teacher, but we’ve had so many lately things feel disjointed. The educational flow has been interrupted.

Ice presents particular difficulties that snow does not. Taking Lucy out for a potty break suddenly becomes treacherous. One of my condominium neighbors diligently shovels the sidewalk and  spreads de-icer, but Lucy sometimes likes to venture into uncleared territory. During the last two storms, I just went outside with my cane. There was enough snow under the ice that I could get a firm foothold. But this weekend’s storm was different: more ice than snow. As I looked at the glassy surface out my back door, I worried.


Sometime last week, though, I’d read a knitting blog post in which the knitter talked about her two-towel strategy for walking on ice.

  1. Lay a towel
  2. Step on it.
  3. Lay another towel in the direction you want to go.
  4. Step on the second towel.
  5. Pick up the first towel.
  6. Repeat.

What did I have to lose? So, I tried it.


Although progress was slow, it worked.

After coming in, I wondered how to speed up the process and walk more efficiently. Could I tie tea towels to my feet and walk? I gave it a try.


With tea towels on my feet, I could walk faster, but ice accumulated on the soles of my feet.

Neither option is perfect, but they certainly gave me the opportunity to learn a little something as I worked through the engineering design process. And I am now wondering if I could adapt this to icy conditions…





Wintery weekend reads

9 Jan


Another wintery weekend in Oregon. The snow starred falling around 11 Saturday morning and eventually turned to ice with freezing rain falling Saturday. I wasn’t as creatively productive as the Unipiper, who shoveled while he played.

Even so, I had my own accomplishments.

I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the car. Knowing bad weather was on the way, I brought the box in with me Friday afternoon and finished listening to it while i worked on my knitting.


The book is quite a bit different from the movie. Some subplots and details have been left out handsome were radically altered for the movie. I feel bad for Cho, who got rough treatment in the movie. She comes out much better in the book, where she does not give up Dumbledore’s Army under the influence of Veritaserum.

I finished two books: Morris Award Finalist Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel.


Publisher’s Summary:When Rani’s father leaves her mother for another woman, Rani shaves her head in mourning. The visibility of her act of rebellion propels her onto the stage as a hip-hop performer and into a romantic relationship with a man who is much older. The whirlwind romance, coming on the heels of her father’s abandonment, make her begin to understand how her father’s sexual abuse wounded her in deeper ways than she, or her mother, have ever been able to acknowledge.

Meanwhile, she seeks solace in making lyrics and performing as well as in her boyfriend’s arms. Rani’s friends warn her about him but she fails to listen, feeling as though she finally has something and somebody that makes her feel good about herself—not recognizing that her own talent in hip-hop makes her feel secure, smart, and confident in ways her boyfriend does not. Indeed, as the relationship continues, Rani discovers her boyfriend’s drug use and falls victim to his abuse. Losing herself just as she finds herself, Rani discovers her need to speak out against those who would silence her—no matter the personal danger it leads her into.

This was the last Morris finalist I had to read.

Then, I finished one of the YALSA Nonfiction finalists,  This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration  by Linda Barrett Osborne.Unknown-1.jpeg

Publisher’s Summary: American attitudes toward immigrants are paradoxical. On the one hand, we see our country as a haven for the poor and oppressed; anyone, no matter his or her background, can find freedom here and achieve the “American Dream.” On the other hand, depending on prevailing economic conditions, fluctuating feelings about race and ethnicity, and fear of foreign political and labor agitation, we set boundaries and restrictions on who may come to this country and whether they may stay as citizens. This book explores the way government policy and popular responses to immigrant groups evolved throughout U.S. history, particularly between 1800 and 1965. The book concludes with a summary of events up to contemporary times, as immigration again becomes a hot-button issue. Includes an author’s note, bibliography, and index.

When I finished that I finally picked up Legh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom,  which I got a while ago.


Even though it has been a while since I finished Six of Crows, I found myself quickly immersed in the world of the Dregs. I’m not very far in, but I am enjoying it.

Two book talks and a field trip

8 Jan

I only managed two book talks this week. It was a four-day week because of Monday’s observance of the New Year.

On Tuesday I book-talked The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove.


I chose this as my first book-talk of the new year because of its ideas about time and  The Great Disruption, which we experienced with Snowmageddon.

On Wednesday, I book-talked Arabella of Mars by Davide Levine.


There were no book talks Thursday or Friday because each day half of our 6th graders went on a field trip to Mercy Corps.  Their international headquarters is in Portland and their mission, to

Alleviate sufferingpoverty and oppression by helping people build secureproductive and just communities

ties in nicely with our model UN unit, the book clubs we just finished, and our writing unit on teen activism.

We met in the Action Center, which you can drop in and visit Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.


The lobby has displays and information about the work they do around the world.

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The kids learned about Mercy Corps and then were taken into a discussion where they had to think about how they use electricity and how certain aspects of life would be different without electricity. Then, they were actively engaged in trying to accomplish a series of tasks ( collect water & firewood, cook, go to school, etc) . Each group was assigned a country and, based on this, their tasks were easier or harder.  Friday’s “Haiti” group moaned loudly about how unfair the process was because other groups had advantages they didn’t. They were actively engaged and got the point of the simulation!

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