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An Author Visit

24 Jan

My school OBOB Battles began at 8:30 on Tuesday. The first student showed up around 8:20.

She was new to OBOB, having attended a private school for K-5, that did not participate in the Oregon Battle of the Books. She seemed nervous, maybe because she was the only student present, maybe because OBOB was new. Maybe both. I chatted with her a bit to ease her nervousness. When I asked her which was her favorite of the 8 books she read, she said, “The  Only Road” without any hesitation.

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It shouldn’t have surprised me that The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz, was on this year’s OBOB list for grades 6-8. It was a 2017 Belpré Award Honor book. After finding out that this was her favorite book, I asked, “Are you  going to the presentation later this week?”

Her eyes twinkled as she replied, “Yes, and I am very excited to meet her.”

Yes, my school was fortunate enough to host Alexandra Diaz on Thursday morning. Unfortunately for me, two of the three sessions were during my class time. I signed several permission slips for my students to miss part of my class to either hear Ms. Diaz speak, or participate in a writing session with her.

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Fortunately, I was able to sit in on her first session, though I had to slip out before it was over.

A couple of seventh and eighth grade classes came in. Not every kid looked excited to be there. I was a little embarrassed, even though they weren’t my students – they were representing our school after all! I heard some talking and lack of interest, until she started talking about The Only Road.  By the time she mentioned the murder of Miguel by gangs, the chatter had stopped and attention was being paid. Go Jags!

I know that other students participating in OBOB attended the presentations. I heard good things from my students who attended the writing workshop. One of them told me, “You would have loved it.”

High praise indeed.

Publisher’s Summary of The Only Road: Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous and life-changing journey from his home in Guatemala to live with his older brother in the United States in this “powerful and timely” (Booklist, starred review) middle grade novel.

Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

 

A book that touched my heart

2 Oct

I’ve been a little lax about writing over the last few months. I’ve lost a little of my mojo. but I read a book recently that I can’t stop thinking about, and I really want to write about it. It’s called The Boy at the Back of the Class  and it is Onjali Q. Raúf’s debut novel.

It’s not the deepest book on it’s subject (refugees, friendship) but the voice of the narrator is so heart-felt and beautiful that I couldn’t stop reading.

One of the things that bothered me at first was that I couldn’t tell if the narrator was male or female. As I moved through the book, it mattered less and less, so that, by the end, when the protagonist’s name and gender become evident, it is immaterial. In the same way that the narrator just wants to be friends with the boy, regardless of where he came from, I loved this character and wanted to be their teacher, regardless of gender. Because this kid is every teacher’s dream student, and yet their voice and way of thinking feels authentically nine. (she how I am also not revealing the name or gender?)

There is a scene in the book where our protagonist makes a journey to Buckingham Palace that had me thinking about The BFG. I hope both you and Queen Elizabeth read this lovely book. If the characters were a little older, I’d consider this as a class read aloud.

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Publisher’s Summary: Told with humor and heart, The Boy at the Back of the Class offers a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of Mrs. Khan’s classroom, but on the third Tuesday of the school year a new kid fills it: nine-year-old Ahmet, a Syrian refugee.

The whole class is curious about this new boy–he doesn’t seem to smile, and he doesn’t talk much. But after learning that Ahmet fled a Very Real War and was separated from his family along the way, a determined group of his classmates bands together to concoct the Greatest Idea in the World–a magnificent plan to reunite Ahmet with his loved ones.

This accessible, kid-friendly story about the refugee crisis highlights the community-changing potential of standing as an ally and reminds readers that everyone deserves a place to call home.

This week’s book talks 9/9-13

13 Sep

Monday

Zero Tolerance  by Claudia Mills
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Tuesday

Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin
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Wednesday

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
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Thursday

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
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Friday

The Faitful Spy by John Hendrix

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Last week’s book talks

9 Sep

In all the mayhem of the first week of school, I forgot to post about my book talks. I remembered to do them, though.

Wednesday

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles
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Thursday

The Magpie’s Library by Kate Blair
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Friday

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
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Homecomings and goings

26 Jun

Yesterday, as I waited for news about my job for next year, I read Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga.

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From the Author’s Website:

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind her, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her home town start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the U.S. –and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home, and most importantly, finding yourself.

Quite frankly, it was the perfect thing to read as I found out that friends were being moved to other schools, while I got to stay with my team in a job I loved. Like Jude, my emotions were conflicted. I was relieved for myself, disheartened for friends. A school staff is like an extended family. You see some a lot, others rarely. You like some members more than others. And when you have to move on, you have to create a new home with strangers or very distant relatives.

Other Words For Home has a happy-ish ending. Jude realizes she can be at home in two places, but her family, though safe, is still separated. Middle grade readers get a great snapshot into the life of a recent immigrant and the realities of being a Muslim in America. The novel is written in free verse making it a quick read that gets to the heart of the matter.

In her afterward, Warg write that she wanted to show that children fleeing a war zone “want the same things all of us do—love, understanding, safety, a chance at happiness.” I think she succeeded.

This week’s book talks 6/10-14

14 Jun

I am so excited that today is the last day of the school, that I got up early and wound up some yarn so I can do celebratory cast on of my first socks of summer tonight.

This week, I talked about books I’ve taken out from the public library and plan to read this summer.

Monday

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Rising Water: The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue by Marc Aronson

Tuesday

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The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Wednesday

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Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

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Finding Orion  by John David Anderson

Rising to the Challenge

10 Jun

I read a lot, as you well know, and I can often predict how things will end. Sometimes, though, you see it coming and it still makes you cry.

This weekend, I read Planet Earth is Blue  by Nicole Panteleakos, and it was like a gut punch. I totally knew what was coming, but the reaction of the main character, Nova, was so well written that I wanted to crawl through the pages to give her a hug, even though she doesn’t like to be touched.

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Books can do a lot to teach kids to feel empathy for others. It was interesting to see what was going on in Nova’s mind, while people around her misunderstood everything she was about.  At 232 pages, Planet Earth is Blue,  isn’t a long book – it can easily be finished in an afternoon by a pool – but it kept me riveted.

 

This week’s book talks 5/20-24

24 May

Monday

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House Without Walls by Ching Yeung Russell

Tuesday

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The Other Half of Happy  by Rebecca Balcárcel

Wednesday

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Soaring Earth  by Margarita Engle

Thursday

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Riverland  by Fran Wilde

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A Place to Belong  by Cynthia Kadohata

20 May

Books set in summer seem to be finding their way to me. Thoughts about summer are certainly making their way to me, and my students. I was grateful for the return to rain after three weeks of summery weather – it helps keep students focused.

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The main character of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s  Shouting At the Rain also appreciates a good storm.

Publisher’s Summary: Delsie loves tracking the weather–lately, though, it seems the squalls are in her own life. She’s always lived with her kindhearted Grammy, but now she’s looking at their life with new eyes and wishing she could have a “regular family.” Delsie observes other changes in the air, too–the most painful being a friend who’s outgrown her. Luckily, she has neighbors with strong shoulders to support her, and Ronan, a new friend who is caring and courageous but also troubled by the losses he’s endured. As Ronan and Delsie traipse around Cape Cod on their adventures, they both learn what it means to be angry versus sad, broken versus whole, and abandoned versus loved. And that, together, they can weather any storm.

As a teacher of 6th graders, I see this sort of relationship struggle frequently. Kids come into 6th middle school with friends from their neighborhood and elementary school. Middle school is a bigger pond. Some friendships endure. Some are abandoned. Some take a new shape. Watching my students negotiate this can be tough. Right now I am watching a good kid fall under the spell of someone with, shall we say, less of a work ethic. I have a feeling he will be all right, but I am am watching him and will intervene if I think I need to.

 

This week’s book talks 5/13-17

17 May

Monday

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Up For Air  by Laurie Morrison

Tuesday

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Extraordinary Birds  by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Wednesday

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Over the Moon  by Natalie Lloyd

Thursday

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The Girl King  by Mimi Yu

Friday

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HurricanE Season  by Nicole Melleby

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