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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

4 Sep

In my head, I refer to today as my “last day of freedom”. Good thing I like my job!

My plans for the day are simply to finish the book I am reading. What book is that, you ask? Why, it is Noteworthy by Riley Redgate.

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Publisher’s Summary: It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight. But then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped . . . revered . . . all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

This is the perfect book to keep me distracted. Jordan’s voice grabbed me from the start. I laughed out loud when, on the second page, she says

Kensington loves its hyphenated adjectives: college-preparatory, cross-curricular, objective -oriented.  “Low-stress” was not one of them.

This is the perfect book for middle and high school kids who loved Joanie Frankenhauser, but have grown up a little.

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I have not finished the book yet – remember, that is my plan for the day – but so far the romance seems chaste enough for middle school.

Enjoy your Labor day. And, for my Canadian friends and family, enjoy your Labour Day!

Change is coming

27 Aug

Teachers in my district go back to work tomorrow. I went to school three days last week in order to get some work done, but also to practice getting up and going to work. It makes the transition easier.

The main character in Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride doesn’t get a chance to practice. Rydr has change thrust upon her.

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In case you can’t see it, the blurb on the front says “She found her family before she found her home.

Publisher’s Summary: A beautifully poignant debut perfect for fans of authors such as Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech and books like Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish. When Rydr travels by train from Los Angeles to Chicago, she learns along the way that she can find family wherever she is.

Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago, to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a backpack, memories both happy and sad, and a box, containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own story begins to emerge. It’s one of sadness and heartache, and one Rydr would sometimes like to forget. But as much as Rydr may want to run away from her past, on the train she finds that hope and forgiveness are all around her, and most importantly, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

There is so much I love about this book. Rydr is a little hard to like at first, but she blossoms as she meets strangers on the train and starts forming her family. Although Rydr is white, the other characters are a diverse lot. Set over the course of three days on a train, we are able to see Rydr blossom, and I can’t lie, this book made me cry. It also made me want to read Howl,  by Allen Ginsburg.

This book might be a long shot for the Newbery, but it is one my Mock Newbery Club will read.

Speaking of my Mock Newbery club, thanks to everyone who contributed to my Donors Choose project. That is complete and the books will ship to arrive after September 8th. I have a second fundraiser running through our local, district based donors choose type program and I am only $250 away from fulfilling that, but it seems to have stalled.  You can help me complete it by making a tax-deductible donation here. I am thankful for whatever you can do to help.

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4 Jun

One of my favorite  reads when I was a young teen, was  Deenie, by Judy Blume.

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It was the story of a girl named Deenie, who develops scoliosis and has to wear a huge brace. When I entered high school in 1978, one of the girls in my year wore just such a brace for scoliosis. I felt like I had some insight into what she was living with.

Armed with this background, I was eager to read Alyson Gerber’s Braced.

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From the author’s website:Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her — even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself.

This was as compelling a read as Deenie. Rachels’ mom had scoliosis as a teen and lived the Deenie experience. As a result she projects her experience onto Rachel, adding an element of parental pressure that Deenie  didn’t have, but many teens can relate to.

Although Rachel is in high school, and there is a little bit of romance, it is chaste enough for middle schoolers

 

Second Looks

20 Feb

Two times in my life I have abandoned books, only to return to them on the advice of my twin  sister, and been thrilled to have done so.

The first time was in 1994 and the book was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

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The opening chapter about the bean in the ear threw me off the scent of a great book.

The second happened just this week. I had started, then abandoned David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite because it opens in a police station with talk of a gruesome murder.

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That’s not my usual cup of tea, so I set it aside. Then, my sister asked if I had read it. I told her why I had abandoned it and she told me I should give it another try. So I did. You should give it a try, too.

Publisher’s Summary: Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.

Can I just say, too, that this is one of the best publisher’s summaries I’ve seen in a ling time.

I think, because I work with youth, I have heard enough stories of crappy lives kids have, that little shocks me. The crappy lives of the kids in David Arnold’s book aren’t especially crappy, but the story he has created is funny, heart-wrenching and sweet all at the same time. It doesn’t solve all their problems, but it gets them to a better place. We had a rainy weekend and I started and finished this book on Saturday,that is how engrossed I was in the stories of the lives of the Kids of Appetite.

AS goes MG

10 Feb

I have made no secret of the fact that I love A. S. King. I will read (and probably buy) anything she writes. Unfortunately, I cannot put her books in my 6th grade classroom library. Until now.

Yes, Amy Sarig King has written a novel for middle grade readers!!!!

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Like her books for older readers, there is a fantasy element. yes,let’s call it that. The eponymous Marvin Gardens is a plastic eating creature that resembles a cross between a dog and a pig…with amphibian-like skin.

I book talked it yesterday, reading aloud the part about Marvin’s first poop – sixth graders still love that sort of thing – and I had them hooked. I told them about Obe’s problems with his friends, with Marvin, and with his neighborhood; problems they can all relate to. I’m hoping this one won’t spend much time on my shelves.

Publisher’s Summary: Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his house, in the last wild patch left, picking up litter and looking for animal tracks.

One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog, or maybe a small boar. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has ever seen a creature like this before, because there’s never been a creature like this before. The animal — Marvin Gardens — soon becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.

In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King tells the story of a friendship that could actually save the world.

Teens in crisis

13 Jan

Another day off due to snow. Yes, the downside is that we will have to make them up in June. The upside is that I am well-rested. I have read a lot,  finished a knitting project, and my grading is complete and up to date.  Go me!

In one of the essays I graded, a reflective letter to an author for the Library of Congress’ Letters About Literature contest, a girl reflected on child abuse.

Ever since I was young, I have never presumed that child abuse was a real thing, that happened in day-to-day life. I always knew of the concept, and that some kids got slapped, or spanked, or smacked, but I never believed that anything as serious as what Carley experiences goes on.

She was writing about Linda Mullaly Hunt’s  One For the Murphys. 

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Those are the words of a 12-year-old, but it gets to the heart of the matter. Family violence is a secret hidden by its victims.

A. S. King delves into this in her latest novel, Still Life With Tornado.

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Publisher’s Summary:Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.

I am an unabashed A. S. King fan, and I think this one is brilliant.

First Book of 2017

2 Jan

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Janet McNally’s debut novel  Girls in the Moon is an understated, nicely written novel. Phoebe, the main character isn’t faced with a big crisis; she’s just trying to figure out family history and her place in it. Her story is contrasted with vignettes narrated by her mother, Meg, that sheds light on things Phoebe wants to know.

Publisher’s Summary: Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth.

Her mother, Meg, ex-rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story—the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister Luna, indie rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the co-founder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago.

But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits in to this family of storytellers, and maybe even to continue her own tale—the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months.

This soul-searching, authentic debut weaves together Phoebe’s story with scenes from the romance between Meg and Kieran that started it all—leaving behind a heartfelt reflection on family, fame, and finding your own way.

Busy reading weekend

14 Nov

Since I spent most of the weekend letting my knee recover, I had a lot of time to read and knit. I read three print books and listened to two audiobooks and almost finished a pair of socks. The perks of a knee injury.

One of the books I listened to was The Sun is Also  Star by Nicola Yoon.

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Publisher’s Summary:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Another great bit of bibliotherapy.

The universe seems to be bringing Natasha & Daniel together and apart and you can’t help rooting for both of them.

I met Nicola Yoon at an ALA dinner in San Francisco. Her first move, Everything, Everything was about to be published  and she was one of 4 authors promoting their work. It was a wonderful novel and I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet. Warning: neither are suitable for middle grade audiences. They are clearly YA.

The story is narrated in two voices, Natasha’s & Daniel’s and unfolds over the course of a single day. As each shares part of their story, you can’t help but fall in love with them. Their narration is punctuated by the Universe telling details about side characters or facts. It could have become didactic, but it is really effective.

Yoon’s sophomore novel is even better than her first!

 

Grieving

13 Nov

It’s been a tough week.

Last Sunday I tore my meniscus.

Tuesday’s election results weren’t what I had hoped they’d be.

And Thursday the world learned that Leonard Cohen had passed.

I needed some bibliotherapy.

I found solace in Monika Schröder’s Be Light Like a Bird. 

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Publisher’s Summary:After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she’s ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don’t seem to deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

This is a book that quotes Paul Valéry and Leonard Cohen!

The title comes from the Valéry quote meaning we need to determine our own future and fly like a bird, not let ourselves drift like a feather.

“One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.” / ”Il faut être léger comme l’oiseau, et non comme la plume”

 Yes, this was just what I needed and it will be my book talk on Monday, and here’s why.

First of all, I loved Wren. Told in the first person from Wren’s point of view, her voice just sounds so authentic, I felt like I really knew this girl and would have been her friend when I was her age. I wasn’t one of the popular girls, either. I felt her pain and grief and wished someone would help her deal with her grief.

I loved her friendship with Theo. I love middle grade because the romance doesn’t get in the way of the real story. Their relationship unfolded in a way that felt realistic for middle school kids.

I loved the fact that she and Theo become teen activists. As this is our next writing unit, I am very excited to share this with my students.

I loved the realistic portrayal of  grief: Wren’s, her mother’s, Theo’s, and his dad’s. We see the range of ways people deal with bereavement. It is complicated, messy and uncomfortable, but it is real.

Yeah, the ending maybe wrapped up just a little too perfectly, but I needed that this week. If you are feeling some grief these days, you might benefit from reading this book, too.

You might also benefit from a little Leonard Cohen. Four lines of “Anthem” are quoted in Light Like a Bird”, but I thought you might like to hear all of it. 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

4 Nov

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Author’s Summary: Gertie Reece Foy is 100% Not-from-Concentrate Awesome.

Which is why she’s dumbfounded by her mother’s plan to move away from their coastal Alabama town, leaving Gertie with her father and Great-Aunt Rae. Most kids would be upset about this. But Gertie is absolutely not upset, because she has a plan. She’s going to become the greatest fifth grader in the universe!

All she needs to do is: write the best summer speech (after she finds Zombie Frog), become the smartest student in her class (if her best friend, Jean the Jean-ius, doesn’t mind), and win the lead part in the play (so long as a Swiss-Chocolate meltdown doesn’t mess things up).

There’s just one problem: Seat-stealing new girl, Mary Sue, wants to be the best fifth grader, too. And there’s simply not enough room at the top for the two of them.

Gertie, like Ramona (with whom she has been compared)  and Clementine, tries to do good but her plans always seem to have unanticipated consequences. All of her problems aren’t solved, but she comes to enough of understanding about them to leave the reader satisfied. This would be a great book for fans of Clementine who are ready for a slightly thicker, more challenging read.

The illustrations in the book are by the fabulous Jillian Tamaki.

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