Archive | May, 2018

Proving yourself

14 May

Sometimes, I get exhausted reading serious realistic books. I love them, but the weight of the characters’ problems is sometimes too much for me  and I need something a little more action-packed.

This weekend, I picked up The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and was carried back in time to 13th century Scotland. This excellent first middle grade novel moves at a fast pace as Drest, our heroine, seeks to rescue her family, held captive by a lord. Although she sets out by herself, she is not alone. She has the voices of her brothers in her head, giving her advice. She also has a wounded knight who she is taking back to the castle from which he came – and the one in which her father and brothers are being held captive. I was so caught up in the tale, I read it in one day. Talk about escapism!


Publisher’s Summary: A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home–with all the excitement of Ranger’s Apprentice and perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series.

This week’s book talks 5/7-11

11 May



The Warden’s Daughter  by Jerry Spinelli



Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway



Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield (Science Comics)by Falynn Koch



Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky



Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Where there’s hope…

10 May

Hope Nation is a collection of essays (and one short story) from a wide range of YA authors who tell a wide range of stories about hope in the face of difficult times. Some of these times are recent and national, others are in the past and more personal. Regardless, each piece shows readers how the author overcame hardship or disappointment, or how they carry on even as problems remain unresolved. An anthology like this gives YA readers an opportunity to glimpse into a favorite author’s personal life. It can also bring new authors to readers who know only one or two authors in the collection.

Publisher’s Summary:We all experience moments when we struggle to understand the state of the world, when we feel powerless and–in some cases–even hopeless. The teens of today are the caretakers of tomorrow, and yet it’s difficult for many to find joy or comfort in such a turbulent society. But in trying times, words are power.

Some of today’s most influential young adult authors come together in this highly personal collection of essays and original stories that offer moments of light in the darkness, and show that hope is a decision we all can make.

Authors include: Atia Abawi, Renee Ahdieh, Libba Bray, Howard Bryant, Ally Carter, Ally Condie, Christina Diaz Gonzales, Gayle Forman, Romina Garber, I. W. Gregario, Kate Hart, Bendan Kiely, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Julie Murphy, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Jeff Zentner, and Nicola Yoon.




The great cover up

8 May

It is SBAC testing week and the directions are clear: Cover all posters that might students an advantage.

I walk to the paper cart that is parked in our hall ready to rip off long sheets of black. Someone has left several rolls of red atop the cart. Not wanting to be wasteful I take them and staple them over the many writer’s workshop charts up on my walls. I have to stand on a chair to cover the top of the chart. I hope my principal doesn’t see me, I think. She has chastised me before about standing on chairs.

I use up the rolls that I’d taken off the cart and realize I need more. Walking to the paper cart I deliberate. Should I get more red to match the paper that is already up, or default to may original plan of black? I am leaning towards more red for consistency, but, the decision is made for me: there is no black on the cart. I tear off more red and head back to my room to complete the task.

When I have finished I look around the room and laugh. It looks like a bordello! Is that a good testing environment?


Summer reading 2018 – the first post

7 May

Although I still have six and a half weeks of school to go, my mind is already turning to summer reading. What is more stereotypically summery than summer camp?

I only went to Girl Guide camp once. It was the summer between grades 7 & 8 and about 4 of us went from our small-town troop. We shared the same tent and I have very fond memories (and one really funny one) of the whole thing.

Vera Brosgol’s experience wasn’t as great and she uses her memories of camp to tell a less pleasant experience in Be Prepared.


Publisher’s Summary: In Be Prepared, all Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

In writing class, my students have been working on theme-based essays, turning the protagonist’s life lesson into a universal. Brosgol does that exceedingly well. Although Vera’s camp is centered around Russian scouting, it speaks to the universal desire we all feel to fit in.


This week’s book talks 4/30-5/4

3 May

Monday: The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd



Tuesday: Bats: Learning to Fly (Science Comics) by Falynn Koch


Wednesday: Bette Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz


Thursday: Pele: The King of Soccer by Eddy Simon and Vincent Brascaglia


Friday: Life on Surtsey by Loree Griffin Burns



Celebrating a 2016 Morris Finalist

3 May

I didn’t get to meet Kelly Loy Gilbert in 2016 when my Morris Committee selected her debut novel, Conviction,  as a William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist. She was pregnant at the time and was unable to travel.I was thrilled to see she had a second novel coming out this year.

Picture Us In the Light  was published April 10th.


Publisher’s Summary: Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined. Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan. When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed façade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Her website says that Kelly “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. “ Conviction did so. I think this one does so even more so.

Just as in Conviction,  things start out slowly. But don’t give up. Also, there are some flashbacks at the beginning and it is important that you pay attention because once everything comes together, you are going to realize the clues she dropped. There are a lot of issues addressed in the book – suicide, illegal immigration, being the child of immigrants – but it doesn’t feel like an issue book because you are so involved in Danny’s story.


Chicken pox? Chicken pox!

1 May

A colleague’s diagnosis of shingles (or chicken pox or maybe hand-foot-and-mouth disease – the doctors still aren’t sure) got several of us reminiscing about our childhood bouts.

I have a few distinct memories. I remember soaking in a tub of epsom salts and giggling with my twin sister as our mom covered us in pink polka dots of Calamine lotion. I still love the smell of Calamine lotion! But my most vivid memory is set in my bedroom.

My mom was a great bed-maker. We loved asking her to tuck us in at night, which meant pulling the sheets super tight and tucking them in. We’d squeal “tighter” and make her adjust our sheets until we felt sufficiently snug. Our old school flannel sheets with pink stripes were a comfort long into my teenage years, but chicken pox struck me and my sister around age five or six.

I remember being in bed during the day in my bed while my sister was in her own bed. I recall the room was dark when Mom came in carrying a tray with two bowls of strawberries. My sister and I were alert and excited. We were never  allowed to eat in our rooms, let alone in bed.

As she delivered a bowl to each of us, she said, “Whatever you do, don’t slop!” Mom was strict and I knew she meant it. She left and I did my best, but, you guessed it: I slopped.  Although I was trying my hardest, a slice of berry fell from my spoon and onto my flannel sheet, leaving a red spot I couldn’t hide from my mom.

I suspect I didn’t enjoy the rest of the berries, but I don’t really remember. I do remember worrying what would happen when Mom returned. I expected the worst.

But the worst never came.

Instead of getting mad, my mom got a cloth and rubbed out most of spot. She might have eventually changed the sheets, I don’t remember. I do remember feeling relieved and surprised, as though I’d had a great epiphany. It was my first step towards understanding that my mother was a much more complex person than I’d always thought she was.





Randy Ribay

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