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Other people’s lives

13 Jul

When I was in high school, mom volunteered at a shelter for women fleeing domestic abuse. She was shocked that it happened in “good families”.  She is still shocked by stories that she hears in the news about dysfunctional families.  As a teacher, I’ve seen, or heard, a lot of family stories. There is very little that shocks me anymore, but my heart breaks with every sad story I hear.

Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr is the sort of story teachers know. Gem is the sort of kid a teacher encounters and miss because she tries to maintain a facade of normalcy. She doesn’t ask for help, even though she should. He dad has left and her mother

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Publisher’s Summary: Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.

This is not a happy book, though it ends with hope. It certainly captures the instability of too many kids’ lives. It also reminds me of a few other books for adults.

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Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Goodreads Summary: At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby’s gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby’s spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

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Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray

Goodreads Summary: Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls’ home. At age fifteen, when her family finally unraveled, Murray found herself on the streets. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.

Eventually, Murray decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. She squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman’s indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

Our traditional holiday lies

22 Nov

“I’m worried about the package,” my sister told me when we Skyped on Sunday. “I had to go to a different post office and the clerk gave me trouble.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, I lied, as always. Instead of saying the package contained tea, I said it contained chocolate. The clerk said it was a violation of Canadian and American law to send chocolate throughout the mail. So I said it was candy. I’m worried she flagged it for inspection.”

I laughed. We are always lying to federal officials on both sides of the border, about what our packages contain. They never contain anything illegal, but we lie just in case.

When I arrived home last night, I mounted the stairs chanting my new apres-knee mantra: “Good foot up, bad foot down”. I can walk unassisted, but am using a cane for security. As I reached the top step, I looked up and saw a small package at my door stoop. Oh, to be able to run or skip! It was, of course, my illicit Advent calendar.

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I sent a quick message to my sister then opened this tiny cabinet of wonders.

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One tea a day until Christmas! As a naturally curious person, I had to peek at my birthday. What tea would December 23 hold?

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Organic Kashmiri Chai! I resisted the temptation to peek at any others. I just have to wait patiently for 8 days, until I can open the first drawer.

 

 

 

Princess Me

17 Jul

I felt as powerful as a Queen this weekend as I zipped around town doing last-minute errands in preparation for the 2016 Oregon Basset Hound Games. As you read this post, I am probably on my way to, or already  in, Woodburn, Oregon for the fabulous event and fundraiser for Oregon Basset Hound Rescue.

Adrienne is not a name that appears often in literature, so imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered a series featuring Princess Adrienne, heroine of the Princeless  a Canadian all-ages comic book series by Jeremy Whitely.

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The first volume Princeless Vol. 1: Save Yourself,  introduces us to Princess Adrienne  and her plight.

Publisher’s Summary: Adrienne Ashe never wanted to be a princess. She hates fancy dinners, is uncomfortable in lavish dresses, and has never wanted to wait on someone else to save her. However, on the night of her 16th birthday, her parents, the King and Queen, locked her away in a tower guarded by a dragon to await the rescue of some handsome prince. Now Adrienne has decided to take matters into her own hands!

And so, Princess Adrienne escapes, and accompanied by her companions, Bedelia the Blacksmith and Sparky the Dragon , sets off to rescue her six sisters (Alize, Antonia and Andrea, Angoisse, Angelica, and  Appalonia). Their  rescue stories are told in the subsequent volumes. So far, there are five books total.

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This excellent series  was nominated for two Eisner awards, “Best Single Issue” and “Best Comic for Kids Ages 8-12”, and five Glyph awards, winning the categories “Best Female Character”, “Best Writer”, and “Story of the Year.

If you are looking for good graphic novels with strong female characters, give Princeless  a try!

 

 

 

Band of Sisters

29 May

In 1993, Stephen Ambrose brought us Band of Brothers,

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a work of non fiction that told the story of the men of E Company during World War II describes how they parachuted into France early D-Day morning, parachuted into Holland during the Arnhem campaign, and captured Hitler’s Bavarian outpost.

In 2001, HBO, Tom Hanks and others, translated the book into a 10-episode mini-series.

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And now, in 2016, Michael Grant reimagines World War II in Front Lines, 

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set in a world where  a court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. front Lines is a sort of Band of Sisters, and the first in a new series called Soldier Girl.

From the Author’s Website: Front Lines is Michael Grant’s latest epic stroke of dark genius. A thrilling new trilogy that plays with the What Ifs? Of history. What if during World War II, the girls had been called up to fight with the boys? What if there was no distinction made between a girl and boy in battle? What if the fate of the world could be changed?

Front Lines book cover by Michael Grant ISBN 9781405273824Meet Rio Richlin and her friends:

Rio Richlin is a 17 year-old white girl from a small town in northern California. She has no superpowers, she is not noticeably special in any way, but she will grow to become an effective combat soldier.

Frangie (Francine) Marr is a black girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city with a terrible history of racism. She likes animals, wishes she could grow up to be a doctor, and spends the war as a combat medic, saving lives amidst slaughter.

Rainy (Elusheva) Schulterman is a Jewish girl from New York who wants to do all she can to stop Hitler. She will offer her penetrating intellect and talent for languages to army intelligence as an analyst and a spy.

The soldier girls must prove their guts, strength, and resourcefulness as soldiers. Rio has grown up in a world where men don’t cry and girls are supposed to care only about money and looks. But she has always known that there is something wrong with this system and something else in her. Far from home and in the battlefields, Rio discovers exactly who she is meant to be.

Here’s the trailer

Package Day

8 Mar

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I had a late meeting after school yesterday and, as I climbed the steps from the street to my front door, I was delighted  to see a package sitting on my stoop.

My twin sister and I send each other packages in the mail for no reason. We collect things (books, tea, etc.)that we know the other likes. When we have enough, we ship it off. It is a tradition that has evolved over time.

I have lived away from my family for decades. I taught in Colombia for several years and my sister and I sent letters. Later, when I’d moved to Portland, OR, letters evolved into socks, and socks evolved into packages.I can’t tell you when or why or how, but the tradition continues.

Today’s package contained a replacement for a favorite mug I’d broken a few months ago. And there was tea (2 kinds) and some Cadbury’s Easter candy I can’t get here. I’ve got to pace myself on that.

I have a package on the go for her, too. I need to get more packing tape, but I hope to mail it on Friday, so it will arrive after she and her family get home from their Spring Break vacation. I hope she will be as excited to get this one as I was to get hers.

Mammogram Day #SOL15

5 Mar

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If it weren’t so serious, it would be ridiculous. Me, semi-topless and a complete stranger manhandling certain private parts of my upper body onto the mammogram machine. And all the while, you and the mammography technician are chatting away as though you are in a cafe on a sunny day.

As it turns out, my technician and I share a birthday! What a coincidence, as she wrangles the right side.

She has children who look as unlike as my twin sister and I do, as she adjusts the left side.

One of her daughters had ADHD, as she rejiggers my position on the right.

She is from short German peasant stock, as she fashions my glamor pose on the left.

And then it is over.

Until next time.

When Twins Don’t Get Along

18 Dec

I recently reread Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, which I have always said is my favorite KP book. It wasn’t quite the book I remembered, but I still enjoyed it.

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 The main character, Sara Louise Bradshaw, has a twin sister, Caroline, who is prettier and more talented, and better at social situations. The book is essentially Louise’s attempt to break free of her sister’s shadow.

As a twin, I find this a fascinating book and I remember now why I liked it so much. My sister and I got along very well, and still do. I was the quieter, shyer twin and sometimes felt like I lived In my sister’s shadow. Sometimes that was a safer, more comfortable place to be. I could let her take the lead in social situations where I felt uncomfortable, and often let her speak for both of us.

I am currently reading I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

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It features boy-girl twins, Noah and Jude who are very close until around age 13. Noah is artistic and solitary, Jude is much more outgoing. The story is narrated in an alternating pattern, with Noah telling the early years, and Jude telling about life at age 16. As each chapter unfolds you find out what happened to break their connection, and what helps put it back together.

Even if you are not a twin, both stories explore complex sibling relationships that most people can connect to.

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