Archive | June, 2018

We are saved by saving others

27 Jun

I left New Orleans Tuesday before dawn. The friendly cab driver and I chatted amiably despite my exhaustion. I checked my very heavy book-laden bag, made it through security quickly and sat at my gate, often with my eyes closed.

The man  who sat down across from me had a piece of tissue stuck to his bloody chin. An early morning shaving accident, I surmised. A little later, an airport attendant wheeled an elderly black lady to our area and settled her in a seat just down from the man with the bloody chin. The little old lady’s husband joined her and the attendant was trying to talk to them. I listened, my tired eyes often closed, and I realized the attendant was concerned because the elderly couple did not speak English, but Louisiana Creole.

I watched as the attendant went to speak with a gate attendant. I could see they were discussing the need for a French speaker, so I stood and went over to offer my help. I explained my French was rusty, but they were grateful nonetheless. It turned out my French was up for the task. They just wanted the couple to know the time and gate for their flight. Later, the woman caught my eye and I went over. She asked me something and I wasn’t completely clear on what it was. She asked again and I discerned she wanted to know where the nearest restroom was.

“Ah, le salle de bain?” I said, hopefully.

Her eyes lit up and she nodded. Then she added what sounded like, “Oui, dudu.”

I didn’t actually know where the nearest restroom was, but I explained where one was likely to be ( we were near the food court) and the signs to look for. She smiled and set off. My row was called so I didn’t see her come back.

I slept through the take-off for the flight to Dallas . I woke up for the snack and beverage and then promptly fell asleep again. When we landed, I had to take the Skylink train. As I awaited the train that would take me from Terminal C to terminal D, A woman approached me and asked, “Do you speak Spanish?”

She just needed an explanation about which train she should take. But I couldn’t help marvel that I helped out in two languages within a few hours.

On the flight to Portland, I read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier.


It is a beautiful story and I marked an idea that spoke to my heart: We are saved by saving others.

Publisher’s Summary: For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on “climbing boys”—orphans owned by chimney sweeps—to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless, and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived—and a girl. With her wits and will, she’s managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again. But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature—a golem—made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire.

Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster. Together, these two outcasts carve out a life together—saving one another in the process. By one of today’s most powerful storytellers, Sweep is a heartrending adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and hope.


#alaac18 – Day 4 in New Orleans

26 Jun

I fairly flew to the Convention Center Monday morning. Apparently my happiness was evident because, After replying “Good morning” to the same greeting from I woman I passed on the street, she added, You are awfully jolly this morning.”

Of course I was: this was the day we handed out our awards, them met the honorees for lunch! This was the final event in a process that began over a year ago.




Sorry about that last photo – maybe I was a little excited and I couldn’t keep my hands from shaking!

It was amazing to get to finally meet everyone and we got to have some deeper conversations over lunch.

And then the good byes started. Most people left that afternoon, but a friend and I were not among them so we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening together.

Our first stop was the Odyssey Awards presentation for the best audio recordings. The most emotional moment of the event happened before the ceremony started.  A buzz spread in the room as Angie Thomas, author of The Hate You Give, arrived. As she walked up to Bahni Turpin, the narrator of the audiobook, she burst into tears and hugged her. This was the first time they’d ever met!

From there we visited the Hotel Monteleone which featured a revolving, carousel  bar, at which writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and William Faulkner passed some time. We walked on for a seafood dinner at Trenasse, where I had a delicious Crawfish pie.


While in New Orleans, I managed to eat jambalaya, crawfish pie and gumbo. As you read this, I will probably be flying home. These two thoughts bring to mind that great Hank Williams song:



#alaac18 – Day 3 in New Orleans

25 Jun

I came to New Orleans with a list of arcs I wanted. I also came intending to take only as many books as would fit in my suitcase.

I shipped two boxes yesterday.

I was at the post offcie by 9 a.m. because I wanted to avoid the lines that would be inevitable Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. The process was quick, efficient and pleasant. I walked the exhibit hall floor, looking for a few more books – really, just specific titles I had on a list but hadn’t yet found – on my way to the Pop Top Stage to listen to the Pura Belpre winners speak.

From there, I was off to lunch hosted by Abram books, at Calcasieu, private dining rooms above Cochon. We were given some meal choices and, even thought my vegetable consumption this week has been limited, I opted for the Gumbo starter and Shrimp with Grits for my entree. Both were divine.


Four middle grade authors were present and two spoke between each course. Nathan Hale and Rebecca Petruck went first. Nathan spoke about Raid of No Return and Rebecca spoke about Boy Bites Bug.

As we finished our entrees, Laura Geringer Bass spoke about The Girl With More Than One Heart and Jonathan Auxier spoke about Sweep.

All of these books will be perfect for my classroom library and I look forward to book talking them in the new school year.

After the meal, I walked back to the hotel, intending to rest before dressing for the Newbery Caldecott Banquet. I was so sleepy I decided to have a nap, but didn’t set the alarm, not really expecting to sleep long. I awoke with a start at almost 5 pm. YIKES!

I slicked down my bedhead and dressed quickly. I was out the door in 5 minutes to walk to the shuttle bus at the convention center that wold take me to the Hilton where I would meet up with my Sibert committee colleagues. We got a table together for the banquet.

As the banquet is wont to be, the food was okay, the conversation excellent, and the speeches brought us all to tears. Matthew Cordell, Caldecott winner for Wolf in the Snow,  went first. That’s when the waterworks started flowing. He was followed by Erin Entrada Kelly, author of  the Newbery winning Hello, Universe. She had us laughing at examples of her first, self published works from elementary school and crying as she spoke about her family experiences and what the award meant. Final, Jacqueline Woodson, winner fo the newly renamed Lifetime Legacy Award who called us to action.

I had another great sleep and I am out early this morning for the presentation of the 2018 Robert F Sibert Medal. I  can hardly wait to share that experience with yout tomorrow!

#alaac18 – Day 2 in New Orleans

24 Jun

After a great night’s sleep. I started my day by listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin talk about her newest book and the leadership qualities of 4 presidents: Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and LBJ.


Next up: the first of two stints volunteering at the “Stand for the Banned” booth where conference attendees are invited read aloud from a banned book and talk about how that banned book impacted their lives. It was fun watching people find their book, then get filmed talking and reading.

I took a little tour around the exhibit hall before sitting in on an author panel, then watching Man One, the illustrator of the 2018 Sibert Honor  Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix , demonstrate his talents. This was followed by another stint at the “Stand for the Banned” booth.


A tea with Boyd’s Mill in the late afternoon gave me the opportunity to talk with our Sibert winner, Larry Dane Brimmer (who recognized me from the video of our phone call to him in February. I also got to meet Gail Jarrow the author of a number of excellent nonfiction books, and tell her how I use Bubonic Panic  as a mentor text when teaching intros and conclusions for nonfiction writing.

I had a long break before my next event, so a friend and I decided to walk around the French Quarter for a few hours. This was my first real chance to experience the city.

My last event of the day was another dessert party, this one sponsored by Simon & Schuster. The highlight of this event was walking up to Andrew Smith and introducing myself as a teacher from Beaverton, Oregon. we had a great chat about the banning of Stick  by our erstwhile Assistant Superintendent.

Tomorrow is a less schedule day, but it will end with the Caldecott-Newbery Banquet. Stay tuned.


#alaac18 – Day 1 in New Orleans

23 Jun

What a day!

I left Portland at 5:30 a.m. (PT) and landed in New Orleans at 3:15 (ET). OMG is it ever hot and humid here!!!!

i got settled in my hotel, where I dropped the temperature on the room air conditioner and checked messages while I cooled down. Debra, a Sibert colleague texted early in the day inviting me to a dinner with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, celebrating Mary Downing Hahn, author of countless spooky ghost books. I texted back that, it was late, but if there was still room, I was in.

While waiting to hear the verdict, I walked over to the convention center to register and ran into a colleague from Portland. While registering, I got a reply saying there was still room. So, my dinner plans were made. It turns out my friend was in listening to Michelle Obama speak. I got to hear the last 5 minutes while I waited fo her.

It was a wonderful reunion and after I changed out of my sweaty clothes, we took a taxi over to Muriel’s, the restaurant where our event was to be held.


Our meal was upstairs in private rooms. Because Mary Downing Hahn writes ghost stories, this was the perfect restaurant as it is said to have at least one resident ghost. We started with pre-dinner drinks in the seance room, which really is this red.


Already dehydrated, I stuck with water, downing three glasses before we were called in to dinner. And what a dinner! I opted for the blackened redfish and it was delicious!


 The group was small, five tables of 7 people. With each course, Mary Downing Hahn changed tables, so we all had an opportunity to talk with her. I didn’t have a chance to talk with my mother’s ghost.

At the end of the meal, the night was not yet over. Debra and I had two more events to attend, both dessert parties at the Sheraton. We decided to walk and as we meandered through the narrow streets, we encountered a man singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. My mother was a huge Neil Diamond fan (and had the concert t-shirt to prove it) so I saw this as a sign that she was with me on this trip she was so excited to hear about.

I was exhausted, but relieved that MacMillan and Chronicle each had their dessert parties on the same floor. Both events were excellent, but I was happy to get back to my hotel room, which was perfectly chilled.



On my way to #alaac18

22 Jun


Today is a travel day. I am scheduled to land at 3:15 pm which means I will probably not get to attend Michelle Obama’s opening session at 4 pm. I am a bit disappointed, but I know the few days I spend here will be filled with all sorts of other celebrity moments, the highlight of which will be the Sibert Awards ceremony on Monday morning.

For the last month, every time I spoke with my mom she’d ask “Have you been to New Orleans yet?” And then she’d add, “It’s on my bucket list.”

Well, she didn’t get there, so it is my intention to go and take her spirit with me. She was a lot less inhibited than I  – have I got a Cartagena story to tell – but I will do my best celebrate in a way she would enjoy.

My Mom’s Last Day

21 Jun

Tuesday was my students’ last day as sixth graders.

It turns out it was also my mom’s last day on Earth.

She got up and met her little old lady friends for coffee. She usually brought down the horoscopes or the quote of the day to share with everyone.

She called my eldest sister to take her to the dollar store for dime wrappers. She had a lot of dimes she’d won at Bingo and wanted to get them organized.

For lunch she had a toasted tomato sandwich, a banana, and a glass of milk. For dinner she had Lean Cuisine meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Tuesday evening she went to cards & bingo – probably with her neatly organized dimes. She fainted while she was there and her little old lady friends called for an ambulance and they called my eldest sister, who beat the ambulance to the hospital.

She had revived before she got to the hospital, but her blood pressure kept dropping. She died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

She was a feisty French-Canadian who loved bingo, her family, and Pachelbel’s Canon. We will hold her memorial service on July 7th, in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.



The second last day of school

19 Jun

Yesterday, the air in my room crackled with second last day of school energy. My sixth graders were supposed to be quietly working on a task while I called students from each table group to clean and empty their lockers.

J was having a hard time. He alternated between perching on his chair with his knees tucked inside his shirt making silly noises and wandering the room. Incredibly bright, he has some behavioral issues. After redirecting him several times, I was feeling a little frazzled. I walked up to where he was standing (on the other side of the room from where he was supposed to be) and noticed that I had to look up at him. He’d gotten tall over the last year. Sixth graders do that.

“J, you seem really anxious and energized,” I commented in a positive tone of voice. “How are you feeling?”

“I don’t want school to be over.” His reply left me gobsmacked.

“What can I do to help?” I asked.

“Give me summer school,” he replied. I laughed.

“I can’t give you summer school. What can I do to help you right now?” I asked, still chuckling. “You seem to have a lot of energy”

“I don’t know,” he replied bouncing on the balls of his feet.

And then I had a brilliant idea. A Spanish textbook had been sitting in the locker room for a few days. I could send it to the library with J.

“I have an idea,” I said and offered him the book.

He placed it on his head and slowly glided towards the door.




Popularity Contest

18 Jun

The top checkouts in my library this year weren’t all that surprising.


In first place for the second year in a row, Cinder  by Marissa Meyer



In second place, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest


Graphic Novels:

In first place, This One Summer by Jilliam Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki


In second place, Boxers by Gene Luen Yang




Last book talks of 2017-18

15 Jun





Anne of Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden




A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield



Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison



Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor


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