Archive | July, 2017

The families we make

17 Jul

I’ve been thinking about starting  Mock Newbery Club at my school next year. Rather than being a year-long club, it would begin in October and the students in the club would initially read off a list I suggest, but they would be free to add titles too.

One of the titles that will appear on that list is Beyond the Bright Sea  by Lauren Wolk, who wrote last year’s Newbery Honor book,  Wolf Hollow

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Publisher’s Summary

Each new bit of information Crow learns about her origins only raises more questions. But Crow is determined as she peels away the layers of mystery to get to the heart of the matter: love makes a family.

Happy Bastille Day!

14 Jul

On July 14, 1789 a Parisienne mob stormed the Bastille, a notorious Parisienne prison. Considered a monumental moment in the French revolution, Bastille day (or La Fête Nationale) first became a holiday on 14 July 1790.

Since I won’t be in France this Bastille Day, I can, at least, read about it. And the perfect summer read for an armchair traveller  is I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski.

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Publisher’s Summary:  I see London, I see France…I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and a half weeks travelling through Europe with her childhood best friend Leela. Their plans include Eiffel Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers.

Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug of war.

In this hilarious and unforgettable adventure, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski tells the story of a girl learning to navigate secret romances, thorny relationships, and the London Tube. As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera…wearing only her polka dot underpants.

Vive la lecture d’été!

 

Other people’s lives

13 Jul

When I was in high school, mom volunteered at a shelter for women fleeing domestic abuse. She was shocked that it happened in “good families”.  She is still shocked by stories that she hears in the news about dysfunctional families.  As a teacher, I’ve seen, or heard, a lot of family stories. There is very little that shocks me anymore, but my heart breaks with every sad story I hear.

Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr is the sort of story teachers know. Gem is the sort of kid a teacher encounters and miss because she tries to maintain a facade of normalcy. She doesn’t ask for help, even though she should. He dad has left and her mother

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Publisher’s Summary: Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.

This is not a happy book, though it ends with hope. It certainly captures the instability of too many kids’ lives. It also reminds me of a few other books for adults.

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Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Goodreads Summary: At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby’s gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby’s spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

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Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray

Goodreads Summary: Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls’ home. At age fifteen, when her family finally unraveled, Murray found herself on the streets. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.

Eventually, Murray decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. She squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman’s indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

True confessions of a car stalker

11 Jul

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I’ve designated myself the parking police.

I park on the street and it has suddenly become hard to get a parking spot. So, I have become a parking detective – and snitch.During the school year, I became anxious if traffic was bad, worried these new (and unknown) interlopers would hog a space.

City laws say that you have to move your car every 24 hours, so I began noting which cars didn’t move.   I looked a little further into parking regs and learned that the city has a parking hotline. Suddenly, I had a tool to handle my concerns.

I confess, I have only called on two cars. There are criteria that have to be met.

A vehicle that remains in violation for more than 24 hours and one or more of the following conditions exist:

A.    The vehicle does not have an unexpired registration plate, fails to display current registration, or does not have them lawfully affixed to the vehicle.

As an example a vehicle with a temporary registration or a TRIP permit counts as having current registration while the temporary registration or TRIP permit is valid and visible.

B.     The vehicle appears to be inoperative or disabled.

As an example a vehicle with a flat tire is inoperative, but a vehicle that might have an impairment that is not visible is not an Abandoned Vehicle.

C.    The vehicle appears to be wrecked, partially dismantled or junked.

As an example a vehicle with a missing windshield would be considered partially dismantled. A vehicle with a missing or damaged door window would not be considered wrecked, partially dismantled, or junked as it could still be legally operated on public highways.

In both cases where I called, bright green tow warnings appeared. In the first case, the vehicle was moved. In the second case, it was towed on July 1st, almost a month after I called. Apparently Portland also has a problem with abandoned vehicles and has a backlog.

There are a couple of other vehicles I am watching. Two have been moved twice since the tow happened. One has been sitting for over a month. It’s plates are good through August. I am also vigilant about my own car and, make sure that if I don’t go anywhere, I move my car so no one thinks I’ve abandoned it.

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Exploring Ancient China

9 Jul

When I was at the Field Museum, almost two weeks ago, we were given the choice of special exhibits to see. As tempted as I was by the Tattoo exhibit, I chose the Hall of China exhibit because it is a unit I teach, but feel I don’t know as much as I should.

I recognize the features of Ancient China in Faith Erin Hicks’ The Stone Heart,  the second volume in her  Nameless City series.

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Publisher’s Summary:Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

I have neither of these in my classroom library, but I think they are books I must add before September.

Crossing lines

7 Jul

Billed as a modern-day  retelling of Romeo & Juliet, Ronit & Jamil,  by Pamela L. Laskin is a novel in verse.

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Publisher’s Summary: Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

To my mind, the book reminds me less of Romeo & Juliet than Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, which came out in 1999.

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Publisher’s Summary: The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. Though her father grew up there, Liyana knows very little about her family’s Arab heritage. Her grandmother and the rest of her relatives who live in the West Bank are strangers, and speak a language she can’t understand. It isn’t until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is Jewish, and their friendship is silently forbidden in this land. How can they make their families understand? And how can Liyana ever learn to call this place home?

Habibi  won the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and it is one that I don;t have in my classroom library, that I now think I want to add. As much as I liked Ronit & Jamil,  there is some mature content that precludes me putting it in a 6th grade classroom library.

 

Dogs are people too

6 Jul

Lucy and I are spending a lot of time together these days. There are frequent walks and daily naps. We like it like that.

Ed, of Excellent Ed written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach, also has an excellent life.

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However, Ed also has a problem. Everyone in the family is good at something. Everyone except ed, that is. And so begins his journey of self-discovery.

Publisher’s Summary: Dog lovers will adore this imperfect yet endearing mutt and his quest for excellence!

Everyone in the Ellis family is excellent–except Ed.

Ed wonders if this is why he isn’t allowed to eat at the table or sit on the couch with the other children. So he’s determined to find his own thing to be excellent at–only to be (inadvertently) outdone by a family member every time.

Now Ed is really nervous–what if he’s not excellent enough to belong in this family?

This funny and endearing story offers a subtle look at sibling rivalry and self esteem, and will reassure kids that everyone is excellent at something, and that your family loves you, just as you are.

It doesn’t spoil the ending to let you know that Ed’s journey ends with the discovery of his special talent.

 

The last leg

4 Jul

A week ago, I returned home from Chicago. It was a breeze.

I got to the airport in a timely manner. My first flight boarded and left on time. I had a Goldilocks layover in Seattle- not too long; not too short; just right. I landed in Portland on time and my bag was one of the first on the carousel. As I exited the terminal, the bus to long term parking was waiting. I got to my car and was home when I expected to be. I dropped off my very heavy suitcase and went to pick up Lucy.

And that is when the breeze ended.

After a happy reunion, Lucy and I got into the car for what should have been a 20 minute drive home. But it wasn’t. As soon as we got off the side street and onto the major street that would begin our journey home it was clear something was wrong. It took 10 minutes to go one block.

I stayed calm and turned on the radio, seeking news about traffic woes. There were many, but they were all on the highways. Where were the details about street traffic? I stayed calm, talking to Lucy, who had curled up in the passenger seat as she was wont to do, giving her pats and cuddles.

Another 10 minutes, another block. What to do?

Looking ahead, nothing seemed to be improving, so I made the decision to go a less direct route. I had several options and chose the one that seemed most reasonable. I think other people had the same idea. The next ten minutes moved us along, but not exactly in the direction I wanted to go. At least we were moving.

When I finally turned the direction of home, the traffic was still slow, but moving. The closer I got to the Burnside Bridge, the better things became.

Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon

Once I was over the bridge, we were travelling at the speed limit and were home shortly afterwards.

As she always does, Lucy took a big drink of water, glad to be home. And I drank in the joy of being home, with a whole summer stretching out in front of me.

 

Thinking about home

3 Jul

Because July 1st fell on Saturday, today is a statutory holiday for Canadians, giving most a long weekend, the first of summer.

Since today is an extension of Canada Day, I want to talk about my favorite Canadian picture book of 2017.

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Publisher’s Summary: A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea. Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Sidewalk Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig.

With curriculum connections to communities and the history of mining, this beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town will enthrall children and move adult readers.

Why do I love this book?

*Sydney Smith’s beautiful illustrations.

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Good illustrations add a depth to the text and Smith’s do just that. The simplicity and openness of the young narrator’s life is contrasted beautifully with that of his father, a coal miner.

*Joanne Schwartz’s text is spare but evocative. The repetition of  “it goes like this—” invites the reader along for the journey in the life of this boy, this family, this town.

Although young readers’ lives might be very different from the narrator’s, Town Is By The Sea invites its readers to reflect on the pace, rhythm and events of their daily lives.

Happy Canada Day 2017!

1 Jul

Today, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recently published a list of the top 150 bestselling Canadian books of the last decade. Many children’s and teens books made the list and I thought I would share them with you.

The #1 & #3 books were by Robert Munsch. Love You Forever was #1 and my favorite Munsch book, The Paperbag Princess,  was #3.

 

Munsch books appear 27 more times on the list – and most of them are illustrated by the same person, Michael Martchenko!

The first non-Munsch book to appear is A Porcupine in a Pine Tree: A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Werner Zimmermann. It came in at #33.

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Number 37 was Sing A Song of Mother Goose  by Barbara Reid.

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Number 45 was ABC of Canada  by Kim Bellefontaine, illustrated by Per-Henrik Gürth.

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One of my favorites came in at number 56: Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt.

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You might not know what a zamboni is, but Canadian kids do. It is no surprise that written by Matt Napier and illustrated by Melanie Rose.

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The most classic story is Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater,  illustrated by Sheldon Cohen. It was # 84.

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A new one to me was #85,  Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard.

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Anne of Green Gables  made the list at #89, the only one of L. M. Montgomery’s many books to make the list.

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The team of Kim Bellefontaine and Per-Henrik Gürth make a second appearance at #101 for Canada 123.

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Did you know Gordon Korman was Canadian? He made the list at #110 for One False Note,  part of the 39 Clues series.

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Astronaut Chris Hadfield made the list 3 times. His picture book, The Darkest Dark  is lucky #113.

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Number 121 is Eric Walters’  action-packed novel The Rule of Three.

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Phoebe Gilman’s Something From Nothing makes the list at # 124.

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The classic Red is Best  by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Robin Baird Lewis is # 144 and the final children’s book on the list.

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Randy Ribay

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