Archive | January, 2021

The Call

26 Jan

My term serving as Chair of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults is almost over. There are still a few things to do. I will host two online celebrations – one for the winners and one to highlight the vetted list of nominations. I am excited to do this, but the most exciting event , The Call, happened a few weeks ago.

I was supposed to be in Indianapolis last week, locked in a room with the other committee members. We should have selected our winner on the weekend and then, make “the call” to that person. COVID changed everything.

Because the video had to be produced early, we had to turn in our winner’s name early January 11 instead of January 24. Fortunately, the nonfiction award works a little differently from most other awards. We chose and announced five finalists in December. It was from those five that our winner was to be selected.

Making the call was a little more complicated than usual. Emails flew back and forth. Me to YALSA. YALSA to the publisher. Finally we had a date and time. The committee members and I arrived to the ZOOM call early as instructed, where we met the two publishing reps. They had told the winner we wanted to talk about the celebration. Not exactly a lie. We were all excited as her name appeared, then, there she was, Candace Fleming.

“Hi Candace,” I began, “I am the chair of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and I have some good news for you. Your book, The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh has been chosen as the winner.” I held up my copy book, still full of sticky notes, on which I had placed the gold winner medal. I was the first person to let her see her book with that medal on it.

Fall and rise

19 Jan

My mind must have been elsewhere because, as I descended the back stairs that lead to the street, I fell.

Did I miss the handrail as I took a mental vacation? Or did I take a misstep? I will never know, but I fell in slow motion. Fortunately, my life did not flash in front of my eyes. I was aware of my fall, and tried to grab the handrail. I missed and continued down. I ended up with my feet near the top of the stairs and my head near the bottom.

Once down, I took stock of myself. Nothing hurt and that was good. My position was awkward so I took a moment. A moment too long apparently because Richard, who knew I was supposed to be taking him to the park, tried to barrel through my mayhem on the stairs. So much for canine empathy.

My effort to get up from my position was not elegant. There might have been some grunting and groaning. Richard gave me more than one look of impatience. As I arrived, upright, at the bottom of the stairs, I looked around – no one on the street.

I looked at Richard and said, “Let’s go to the park.” He set off at his normal happy trot and I kept pace. Despite the mud on one knee, I knew I was truly fine. When your biggest concern is Did anyone see me? you know you are just fine.

Remembering big events

12 Jan

Thursday was a day of hard conversations with my students. Not only did we talk about the assault on Washington, we also debriefed our school district’s announcement that there is no projected return date for middle and high school students. They asked good questions and made thoughtful comments.

One student remarked that he thought the attackers were fools, taking photos and posting them on social media. “The police are going to find them,” he added. These digital natives know a lot about internet safety. I hope it stays with them as they get older

A girl was relieved about the news that distance learning was going to continue. “Why would anyone want to go back?” she asked. “It’s not safe.” I took this as an opportunity to teach my affluent, gifted students about the needs of those less fortunate than them.

These are probably the first big political, social, and cultural events of their lives. It all got me thinking about what was going on when I was their age and it brought back a memory of a day in August 1974. We had just moved into a new house. Now, this was a long time ago and events might have merged in my mind, but I remember being in the new living room, vacuuming the red carpet. This carpet was a source of pride and concern to my mother. It came with the house and she loved it, but it showed every piece of lint. It had already been vacuumed once, but I was given the task of revacuuming to be sure it was really clean and clear of debris.

The living room had big front windows. This was the newest house we’d ever lived in and the windows were a wonder. My father’s company paid for new curtains and mom had ordered heavy curtains with sheers – another fancy first for us.

As I vacuumed the living room, I remember noticing two things.

Through the window, I could see neighborhood kids crawling on the front lawn and huddling near the hedges, trying to catch a glimpse of “the new kids”. Little did I know that we would all become fast friends and spend hours together. At that moment, though, I was nervous about the prospect of meeting them.The second thing I remember is that the TV was on as I vacuumed. These were the years before the 24-hour news we have now, but I remember that regular programming had been interrupted to cover the moment Richard Nixon left the White House.

I wasn’t as interested in the events on the South Lawn of the White House as I was with those happening on the front lawn of my house, but both have found a place in my memory. I don’t know how the events of Wednesday will end, but I wonder what connections my students will make with their own lives.

One Little Word for 2021

4 Jan

I did not select One Little Word in 2019 or 2020. I don’t remember why, but I don’t think any word I chose for 2020 could have predicted, or helped guide me through, the nightmare of 2020. As we begin 2021, though, I feel called to choose another One Little Word.

The past ten months have taught me a lot about the myriad ways the world can go topsy-turvy. I’ve had to teach remotely synchronously and asynchronously. I have learned to navigate online teaching platforms, Zoom and YouTube. I’ve seen decisions made and changed within short periods of time. I have judged and questioned people and decisions, so, in order to navigate the 2021 side of the pandemic, I have chosen TRUST as my OLW. I tend to be skeptical and judgmental of others. I am going to strive

  • to trust that people will take appropriate precautions during the pandemic an
  • to trust that people will strive to make decisions that are good for everyone, not just themselves.
  • to trust that those in charge will make the right decision about when and how we return to in person school
  • to trust that the 2021-22 changes to middle schools in my district will happen smoothly

The first way I am going to place my trust in the new year is by no longer muttering under my breath and behind my mask as I step off the sidewalk for people not wearing masks. Wish me luck!

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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