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From misunderstanding to understanding

7 Jul

Yesterday was about recovery. I was exhausted after a day of travel and needed to adjust to the time difference. I only took one nap, but Lucy spent most of the day asleep after I brought her home. Today, we are both a little more peppy.

In my bleary state I needed something interesting, but not too dense, to read. I found the perfect book in  Save Me a Seat  by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.

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The story is told in the voices of two 5th grade boys. Joe has an auditory processing disorder and is often misunderstood and teased by his peers. His best friends have moved away and he has no one to hang out with at school. Ravi has just moved to America from India. He was top of his class and a top cricket player in his old school, but his efforts to excel in America fall flat. As each relates their first week of school, the two authors show very effectively how the intentions of line person can be misinterpreted by another. There were times when I cringed as I read how either Ravi or joe totally got something wrong. The book is organized around the lunch schedule, the place where both boys sit alone every day. Both are bullied by Dillon and feel as though their lives are not in their control.  Fortunately, they figure things out and become friends.

Although the boys are in grade five, younger readers could manage the short chapters of this book and find it very enjoyable.

A Highly Logical Book Choice

27 Jun

I was a quirky teen and found my peer group in Reach for The Top and friends who were not outcasts, but not top of the social heap that is high school. As I was reading John Corey Whalen’s Highly Illogical Behavior,  I felt I had found my peeps.

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This slim novel, a mere 256 pages, is a quick read narrated by two characters: 16-year-old agoraphobic Solomon and 17-year-old Lisa,  who wants to befriend Solomon, cure his agoraphobia and use this as the basis for scholarship application to a psychology program.

Publisher’s Summary:Teen and adult fans of All The Bright PlacesMe and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Everything, Everything will adore this quirky story of coming-of-age, coming out, friendship, love…and agoraphobia.

Playing with language

7 Jun

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Bosom, breast, hell.

Titters erupted as each of these words were uttered as we began our study of A Midsummer Night’s DreamNot everyone laughed. Some remained quiet, but eyes grew large. You could see the wheels turning behind those eyes, wondering if these were bad words.  I almost laughed as I interrupted two girls arguing over whether or not virgin was a cuss word. Really???

Words have changed meaning within my lifetime. When I was young we didn’t wear flip flops, we wore thongs, but I never use that term because it has taken on a whole new meaning.

Several years ago, I was discussing My Side of the Mountain with a lit circle. They giggled when Jean Craighead George wrote about the crotch of a tree. They only knew one meaning of the word crotch and it was another unmentionable.

I recently learned that troll no longer refers to a mythical being or a person who sows discord on the Internet. It is also an adjective for a bad thing, as in  That test was really troll. Who knew? There are fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but no trolls.  The closest thing to a troll in Shakespeare, is Caliban from The Tempest. I wonder what Will would make of these evolutions of the English language?

 

 

Florence and Raymie Nightingale

27 May

You know, reader, that I love Kate DiCamillo.

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I put Raymie Nightingale  on hold at the library when it was still “On Order” and waited patiently for my turn. I took a deep breath before starting, fearing for a moment, I might be disappointed. I can tell you now, that I was not, though I wondered at times how all the disparate threads would be woven together. Like many of her books, there is a sadness to Raymie Nightingale, but there is also hope. Raymie, like Flora, of Flora and Ulysses,  lives with her Mom and hopes that her dad will return. From an elderly neighbor, she learns about the human soul, and thinks a lot about how her soul waxes and wanes as good and bad things happen. As she makes new friends and endeavors to performs good deeds, Raymie Clarke will touch your heart.

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Publisher’s Summary:Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

I was a few chapters in before I wondered why the book was called Raymie Nightingale when the main character was named Raymie Clarke. I will not tell you, but I hope you will read the book and discover the answer.

SHIFT: A year of a word

29 Dec

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Last New Year’s Eve, I wrote about my One Little Word for 2016: shift. I wanted to change jobs, be a more creative teacher and embrace the instructional changes happening in my district. I was looking forward to a year of exciting work on the Morris Award. Now, two days short of a year, I want to reflect a little on the shifts I’d hoped for and the unexpected shifts that happened.

I am thrilled by my new job. I was very disappointed two years ago when I wasn’t hired to teach at either of the middle schools where I interviewed. I don’t really believe in Destiny, but it feels as though I was destined for the job I got. It is that good a fit. I work on an excellent 6th grade  team and we gather every lunch period and eat together. I share the teaching of the Humanities with another teacher (we each get half the kids on our team for a two-hour Humanities block). This could be tricky, but Nina and I work incredibly well together.

The instructional shifts that were happening in elementary are also happening in middle school. In the summer, I attended a TCRWP inservice as middle school teacher shifted how writing instruction was happening. The 6th grade teachers at my school made this our learning team project and we’ve been working through TCRWP’s Units of Study. It’s been work but we are learning how to make it fit our kids.

I am wrapping up my Morris Committee work by rereading our five finalists. I will go back to work for only four days next week, then go to Boston where we will decide on the winner. It has been an incredible year. I’ve met great authors and committee members. I’ve thought about literature in a new way. I will miss the work, but I am looking forward to some free range reading, too.

Last year I was a round 2 YA nonfiction judge for the CYBILS Award and I will repeat that again this year. The finalists will be announced on January 1st ad that’s when my work begins.

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Some unexpected shifts happened. I lost my dad in late July and my dog, Fiona, in November.

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I’d hoped Fiona would make it other 15th birthday in February. And you always think your parents will live forever.

I wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Best wishes for 2016!

Happy Birthday, Bill Nye!

27 Nov

Before Doctor Who made bow ties cool,

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there was  Bill Nye!

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  Today is Bill Nye’s 60th birthday!

A whole generation of kids  grew up on his TV shows. In addition, he has written a number of science books. His two most recent books have not been targeted at students, but more towards adults, for whom he can break down complicated topics into comprehensibility.

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If you are looking for a good laugh from Bill, you should look for video clips of him reading mean tweets. I won’t post the link her, because I know of at least 1 of my students who reads my blog (HI, Audrey!) and there is some foul language involved in some of the tweets. Apparently, Mr. Nye has a large number of detractors.

 

 

Coming out from the shadow

15 Nov

It’s been a hard week. Saying goodbye to Fiona left me exhausted.

It’s a good thing Lucy is here.

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She doesn’t seem sad that Fiona is gone and, surprisingly, that doesn’t make me angry. It is actually a relief. I always like to say that Lucy was Laurel to Fiona’s Hardy, and she has continued so. She has been very playful and seems to be coming into her own, now that she’s out from Fiona’s shadow.

It has also been a week where we have ramped up our Morris Committee discussions. ALA will announce our 5 finalists on December 1st, so we have some decisions to make before then. During those discussions, I’d noticed a couple of references to Sarah Dessen. It was usually a comment like “This would be a great book for fans of Sarah Dessen.”

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I’d noticed her latest novel, Saint Anything,  was hugely popular, so I decided to listen to it in the car during my, now longer, commute.

Publisher’s Summary:Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Just like Lucy, Sydney is a good girl in the shadow of an older sibling who takes up a lot more of her parents’ attention. Saint Anything is a quiet contemporary YA that are about friendships, family and ordinary girls (although Sydney is somewhat affluent). This was the perfect read for this week. If you are looking for a great book to read during a rainy weekend that evolves subtly and creates a rich emotional landscape full of small changes, this would be a good choice.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

18 Oct

A lot of teen books deal with suicide: either characters have suicidal feelings or they are dealing with the aftermath of the suicide of someone close to them. I just finished listening to I Was Here by Gayle Forman, which falls into the latter category.

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Publisher’s Summary: When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

It took me a while to warm up to Cody. She hasn’t had the soft life of some of Forman’s other protagonists. She is the only child of a single mother who is not very maternal, so has grown up tough and a bit prickly on the outside. She is, however, maybe more realistic that some of Forman’s other characters. because of her situation, there isn’t money for her to go away to school. She has to work after graduation and take classes at the local community college as she can afford them. Her dream of going to university in Seattle is a bust. But she’s making do. Meg’s suicide is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It turns her world upside down, but it eventually gives her the fortitude to take action.

Small Magic

11 Sep

Grandpa Ephraim is dying.

And Micah is about to lose the only family he can remember. So he and Grandpa Ephraim are holding out for a miracle, one that can only come from Circus Mirandus.

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Publisher’s Summary:Do you believe in magic? Micah Tuttle does. Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

What I really love about this book is the way it tells two stories. First, there is the story of the circus itself, all magic and wonders. Then there is the far more serious story of Micah and the loss of his grandfather. This is Cassie Beasely’s first novel but she moves back and forth between these two stories marvelously.

As the book states so simply “just because a magic is small doesn’t mean it is unimportant”. This magical book could be a Newbery contender.

I Dream of Pinkertons

16 Aug

I don’t remember the title of the first book in which I encountered a Pinkerton’s detective, but I was smitten from the start. For years I harbored a secret desire to become a detective. Even now, when there is a mystery to be solved at school (Who’s handwriting is that on the bathroom wall?) I love to try to solve the mystery.

Thanks you, Kate Hannigan, for bringing us The Detective’s Assistant  in which a plucky young girl gets to work with the Pinkertons.

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Publisher’s Summary: Eleven-year-old Nell Warne arrives on her aunt’s doorstep lugging a heavy sack of sorrows. If her Aunt Kate rejects her, it’s the miserable Home for the Friendless.

Luckily, canny Nell makes herself indispensable to Aunt Kate…and not just by helping out with household chores. For Aunt Kate is the first-ever female detective employed by the legendary Pinkerton Detective Agency. And Nell has a knack for the kind of close listening and bold action that made Pinkerton detectives famous in Civil War-era America. With huge, nation-changing events simmering in the background, Nell uses skills new and old to uncover truths about her past and solve mysteries in the present.

Based on the extraordinary true story of Kate Warne, this fast-paced adventure recounts feats of daring and danger…including saving the life of Abraham Lincoln!

Although none of the events in the book could really have happened to an 11-year-old girl at that time, Nell’s plucky voice let this reader suspend her disbelief and indulge her childhood fantasies.

 

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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