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When Bad Things Happen

12 Sep

When bad things happen, some people carry on, some ignore the problem and some worry. Kathleen Lane’s The Best Worst Thing is all about a girl who worries.

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Shortly after visiting a neighborhood store, it is robbed and the cashier is murdered. This sends Maggie into a world of worry. She checks closets and doors frequently, but grows more anxious. Ar school, her best friend starts hanging with “cool” kids, leaving her behind. And her neighbor, who raises rabbits, sells the leftovers for meat. So, Maggie counts to calm herself down.

Publisher’s Summary:

Front door locked,

kitchen door locked, 
living room windows closed.
Nobody in the closet, 
nobody under the beds.
Still, Maggie is worried. Ever since she started middle school, she sees injustice and danger everywhere–on the news, in her textbooks, in her own neighborhood. Even her best friend seems to be changing.
Maggie believes it is up to her, and only her, to make everything all right. Can she come up with a plan to keep everyone safe?
The Best Worst Thing is a perceptive novel about learning the limits of what you can control, and the good–sometimes even best–things that can come of finally letting go.
This is a short, but thoughtful book about dealing with change.

A Evening With Malala

31 Aug

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I spent last evening with 4800 other people listening to Malala Yousafzai speak. She is only 19, but she is such a poised young woman.

We teach Malala and use clips of her speeches as part of our  Model UN and teen activism units, so I’d seen her speak before. Never in person though. What stood out to me, besides the important message she shares, was her sense of humor. None of  the other clips I’ve seen really showed her self-deprecating humor. Tonight, we got a glimpse of the woman behind the message.

Even though she is the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, she didn’t win the position of head girl at her school in Birmingham.

Even though she was speaking to all of us, had met heads of state and addressed the United Nations, she was nervous about her upcoming interview as part of her application to Oxford University.

This year, as we begin our Model UN unit and talk about teen activists, I feel I will have a little something more to bring.

No one ever said life was fair

12 Aug

“No one ever said life was fair,” was my mother’s standard response when I commented on the fairness, or more likely, unfairness, of something. In Elana K. Arnold’s Far From Fair, 

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12-year-old Odette Zyskoski feels that her parents are making a lot of unfair decisions. She has to sell most of her possessions in a garage sale because her parents have sold their house and bought an RV. She has to give up her cell phone and the family will share one. Things are not looking very hopeful.

Publisher’s Summary: Odette has a list: Things That Aren’t Fair. At the top of the list is her parents’ decision to take the family on the road in an ugly RV they’ve nicknamed the Coach. There’s nothing fair about leaving California and living in the Coach with her par­ents and exasperating brother. And there’s definitely nothing fair about Grandma Sissy’s failing health, and the painful realities and difficult decisions that come with it. Most days it seems as if everything in Odette’s life is far from fair but does it have to be?

With warmth and sensitivity Elana Arnold makes difficult topics such as terminal illness and the right to die accessible to young readers and apt for discussion.

Odette starts off as a grumpy middle-schooler. Over the course of the book we see her become less self-centered and more mature. In spite of all the bad things happening in Odette’s life, the book is hopeful and ends in a good, realistic way.  Like many people, Odette can objectively see that her  negative attitude is a problem. We see her struggle and learn to manage her feelings. When her  mother drops the family phone into the water, Odette doesn’t think she has any right to be upset because of her grandmother’s situation. Her mother acknowledges that it’s still okay to be upset about small things.

The book tackles big issues of economic hardship and the right to die effectively, without being preachy. Readers don’t have to like or agree with everything, but they will be left with some things to think about.

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.

Randy Ribay

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