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The Call

26 Jan

My term serving as Chair of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults is almost over. There are still a few things to do. I will host two online celebrations – one for the winners and one to highlight the vetted list of nominations. I am excited to do this, but the most exciting event , The Call, happened a few weeks ago.

I was supposed to be in Indianapolis last week, locked in a room with the other committee members. We should have selected our winner on the weekend and then, make “the call” to that person. COVID changed everything.

Because the video had to be produced early, we had to turn in our winner’s name early January 11 instead of January 24. Fortunately, the nonfiction award works a little differently from most other awards. We chose and announced five finalists in December. It was from those five that our winner was to be selected.

Making the call was a little more complicated than usual. Emails flew back and forth. Me to YALSA. YALSA to the publisher. Finally we had a date and time. The committee members and I arrived to the ZOOM call early as instructed, where we met the two publishing reps. They had told the winner we wanted to talk about the celebration. Not exactly a lie. We were all excited as her name appeared, then, there she was, Candace Fleming.

“Hi Candace,” I began, “I am the chair of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and I have some good news for you. Your book, The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh has been chosen as the winner.” I held up my copy book, still full of sticky notes, on which I had placed the gold winner medal. I was the first person to let her see her book with that medal on it.

Fall and rise

19 Jan

My mind must have been elsewhere because, as I descended the back stairs that lead to the street, I fell.

Did I miss the handrail as I took a mental vacation? Or did I take a misstep? I will never know, but I fell in slow motion. Fortunately, my life did not flash in front of my eyes. I was aware of my fall, and tried to grab the handrail. I missed and continued down. I ended up with my feet near the top of the stairs and my head near the bottom.

Once down, I took stock of myself. Nothing hurt and that was good. My position was awkward so I took a moment. A moment too long apparently because Richard, who knew I was supposed to be taking him to the park, tried to barrel through my mayhem on the stairs. So much for canine empathy.

My effort to get up from my position was not elegant. There might have been some grunting and groaning. Richard gave me more than one look of impatience. As I arrived, upright, at the bottom of the stairs, I looked around – no one on the street.

I looked at Richard and said, “Let’s go to the park.” He set off at his normal happy trot and I kept pace. Despite the mud on one knee, I knew I was truly fine. When your biggest concern is Did anyone see me? you know you are just fine.

One Little Word for 2021

4 Jan

I did not select One Little Word in 2019 or 2020. I don’t remember why, but I don’t think any word I chose for 2020 could have predicted, or helped guide me through, the nightmare of 2020. As we begin 2021, though, I feel called to choose another One Little Word.

The past ten months have taught me a lot about the myriad ways the world can go topsy-turvy. I’ve had to teach remotely synchronously and asynchronously. I have learned to navigate online teaching platforms, Zoom and YouTube. I’ve seen decisions made and changed within short periods of time. I have judged and questioned people and decisions, so, in order to navigate the 2021 side of the pandemic, I have chosen TRUST as my OLW. I tend to be skeptical and judgmental of others. I am going to strive

  • to trust that people will take appropriate precautions during the pandemic an
  • to trust that people will strive to make decisions that are good for everyone, not just themselves.
  • to trust that those in charge will make the right decision about when and how we return to in person school
  • to trust that the 2021-22 changes to middle schools in my district will happen smoothly

The first way I am going to place my trust in the new year is by no longer muttering under my breath and behind my mask as I step off the sidewalk for people not wearing masks. Wish me luck!

2021 Nonfiction Award Finalists

3 Dec

After months of reading, and a long meeting after Thanksgiving, the committee I have chaired for the last year has selected the five finalist for the  2021 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, written by Christina Soontornvat and published by Candlewick Press. 9781536209457.

  • On June 23, 2018, twelve young soccer players and their coach became trapped by flood waters in a northern Thailand cave. Clear maps, diagrams, photography and first hand interviews capture every detail of the rescue of all thirteen, an effort made by hundreds of volunteers. Their rescue seemed impossible but, as Christina Soontornvat shows in this page-turning book, miracles sometimes happen. 

The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival, written by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess with Laura L. Sullivan and published by Bloomsbury YA. 9781547604531.

  • In 1992 Amra’s life is forever changed when Serbian troops seize her hometown of Bihać, Bosnia. Her family and other Muslims face hate, violence, and unimaginable horrors of war.  A enlightening memoir of a Muslim teen trying to survive through the Bosnian genocide and the stray cat that protected her family throughout all her ordeals.

How We Got To the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure, written and illustrated by John Rocco and published by Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. 9780525647416.

  • This extensively researched and illustrated account demonstrates the magnitude of ingenuity and creativity involved in the years’ long effort to reach the moon. John Rocco’s exquisite illustrations and diagrams pair perfectly with his clear text to illuminate “the grit, determination, and hard work to achieve the goal – also the problem-solving, the organization, the science, and the sheer cleverness of it all.” 

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, written by Candace Fleming and published by Schwartz and Wade, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. 9780525646549.

  • Charles Lindberg is one of the most complicated icons in American history. Celebrated aviator, dogged scientist, heartbroken father, Nazi sympathizer, unapologetic eugenicist, Candance Fleming shows all the facets of a deeply flawed American hero.  In a well-researched, engaging narrative, Fleming brings Lindberg to life, warts and all.

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Democracy and Deliver Power to the People, written by Elizabeth Rusch and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9780358387428.

  • From gerrymandering and the electoral college to voter suppression and unequal representation, Elizbeth Rusch breaks down some of the most important problems facing our country’s representative democracy. This nonpartisan guide to civic engagement offers ample suggestions for how teens can become involved in political reform.

The winner will be announced virtually at the Youth Media Awards on January 25, 2021 during the American Library Association’s virtual Midwinter Meeting.

Race to the finish

1 Dec

For the last year, I have been the chair of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. This award is a little different from most of ALA’s Youth Media Awards who’s winners will be announced on Monday, January 25, 2021. For the last month, the entire committee has been reading madly because we had to turn in a list of five finalists today, December 1st.

I turned in the names of our five finalists yesterday, along with an annotation for each book. I heard back almost right away and was asked for a quote for the press release. Fortunately, the email contained an example from a previous press release. I had to come up with a big picture look at five very different titles.

Later yesterday afternoon, I was teaching a reading lesson and asking students to do some big picture thinking about their reading. I was surprised how what I was asking them to do resembled the work that I had done just that morning, so I told them about it. It was a real-life application of what we were doing in class.

The press release announcing our finalists will come out late this week or early next week. When it does, I will happily talk about each of the books with my students. I also promised them that I would share the big picture thinking I had to do for the press release.

Little potatoes

24 Nov

Little pitchers have big ears. It’s an old adage, and I love old maxims like this.

More than once over the 30 years of my teaching career, I have had students say something to me that I think is brilliant and, when I ask them where they heard it, they tell me they heard it from me. It’s nice to know they listen. Teaching remotely, I have a gallery view of little pitchers before me. I also have a gallery of little potatoes. You see, I have reformatted the old axiom. I now believe that not only do little pitchers have big ears, I also hold that little potatoes have big eyes.

“Ms Gillespie, what are those books behind you?”

“Ms. Gillespie, what is that art on your wall?”

“Ms. Gillespie, what are those white bags I see?”

This last question came last week. My sister sent me an Advent calendar -and the means by which I could hang it. I did so, and my efforts did not go unnoticed.

Since remote learning began, I have tried to be mindful of what students see behind me. I just never realized how some of them would scrutinize my living room. I have decided to turn this to my advantage and plant things in the background just to see who is looking, and, I hope, to spark some new conversations.

Sunday in the park

10 Nov

Yellow leaves
With a splash of red
Kids dare-deviling their bikes
Down and up the gully
Taking air as they hit the top
Families and dog-walkers
And even one cat walker
Keeping her pet far from the crowds
Under the canopy
I pass one, two, three groups
Doing tai chi
And another practicing kendo
The muddy off leash area
Is full of the sort of dog
That loves to chase a ball
We stick to the path,
Where it is easier to spot and
Tree a squirrel
Ducks in the algae covered pond
Hold the attention of
Small children
And older folks
More than one family is dressed
For a photo shoot
Amidst the fall splendor
Other families and friends
Gather round laden picnic tables
Or sit on lawn chairs
Socially distanced
Their voices and laughter
Ringing across the park.

Richard, the first three days

3 Nov

I saw Richard for the first time as I pulled into the parking lot of the Wilsonville Petsmart on Saturday. He was walking on the sidewalk with one of the volunteers who had driven to and from Bend, a six hour round trip, to pick him up and hand him over to me.

What struck me first was his size – he is double the size Lucy was! I was also relieved to see that his skin wasn’t as bad as I feared. Oh, it’s bad, but his treatment seems to be working.

He greeted me happily when I got out of the car and came over to say hello. He just rolled with it when he was put in another strange car (mine). He settled into the back and was calm on the drive home. Arriving home, I got the parking spot right in front of my place. When Richard got out of the car, he went straight up the stairs as if he knew this was his new home.

He peed in the house once on Saturday.

Fortunately, I am learning to read his signs and there have been no accidents. There have been lots of walks. In Saturday, we just walked around the block in each direction. Sunday, we took a walk to Laurelhurst Park and Richard was like a kid in the candy store. Squirrels! Dog friends! Smells! His enthusiasm was infectious.

Yesterday, was the real test: would he disrupt my classes. Of course he didn’t! I took him on a long walk at lunch so he slept through most of them. He barked once during my last class – that’s his sign that it is almost time for dinner – then settled down after some snuggles.

Yes, Richard seems to be settling in.

There Might Be A New Man in My Life

27 Oct

I gave away the food, first.

I had neighbors with dogs and figured they might be able to use what I no longer needed after Lucy passed away.

Next, it was the wooden boxes I’d kept covered with towels and used as steps to help her up to the sofa and the bed. I left those on the street corner. it’s what we do on my SE Portland neighborhood. They were gone within an hour, as I suspected they might be.

I left the toys and her bed on the floor for a couple of weeks, not yet ready to see them go. Eventually, I got the courage to bundle them up and put them in the trash. They only had value to me.

I kept her fleece blankets, unwashed, on the sofa longer. I knew I’d wash them eventually and put them away in a cupboard. I just didn’t know that day would come so quickly.

Late last week an email came from the president of Oregon Basset Hound Rescue, asking for a foster family for Richard, a 10-year-old basset with severe ear and allergy issues. Well, for years I’d said that once I had no dog of my own, I’d foster. I had to walk my talk. I didn’t think it would happen so quickly, but Richard is probably coming to stay with me.

He has some pretty strict care protocols that his family couldn’t maintain. And they were struggling to afford the care of the specialist he was seeing. His issues sounded a lot like Fiona’s, who saw an ear and allergy Specialist for years. I am very familiar with ear care – in fact, my old vet said I was probably the best cleaner of dog ears she’d ever met.

I am now waiting to find out if this family is really ready to give up their dog. Given the nature of this year, I am worried I might be disappointed and they’ll change their minds. Despite the endless stream of bad news this year, I am looking forward to something positive in 2020.

Back to School Night 2020

13 Oct

Despite the fact that I was home, I was still nervous for last night’s BTSN. It was going to be a weird one.

Two weeks ago, we had to make a video to send to our Admins – a virtual version of our in-class presentation. This was the week that Lucy was failing and then passed and I was in no frame of mind to make a video. I put it off til the last minute and did a couple of run throughs before changing my shirt and recording the final cut. I sent it in without previewing it. The kids get me unedited, the parents should see the real me, I thought.

We were scheduled to meet with parents last night, from 7:25-7:55. We’d set up the Zoom meeting, but my teammates and I, worried we’d be inundated with questions from the parents of the gifted students we teach, sent out a question form last week along with links to our videos and the Zoom link. We figured we could sort through the questions and address the top ones first. By 7 p.m. we had only one question. It presaged the evening.

Like students in a Zoom meeting, the 60+ parents were remarkably quiet. The flood of questions never arrived. It was, in fact, more like a trickle. And there were more than a few awkward silences. We let some stretch. We filled a few.

As we ended the meeting, we reminded parents that, if they had any other questions, to send us an email. So far, I don’t have any. I wonder if the Math teacher can say the same.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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