Tag Archives: family

Coming out from the shadow

15 Nov

It’s been a hard week. Saying goodbye to Fiona left me exhausted.

It’s a good thing Lucy is here.

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She doesn’t seem sad that Fiona is gone and, surprisingly, that doesn’t make me angry. It is actually a relief. I always like to say that Lucy was Laurel to Fiona’s Hardy, and she has continued so. She has been very playful and seems to be coming into her own, now that she’s out from Fiona’s shadow.

It has also been a week where we have ramped up our Morris Committee discussions. ALA will announce our 5 finalists on December 1st, so we have some decisions to make before then. During those discussions, I’d noticed a couple of references to Sarah Dessen. It was usually a comment like “This would be a great book for fans of Sarah Dessen.”

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I’d noticed her latest novel, Saint Anything,  was hugely popular, so I decided to listen to it in the car during my, now longer, commute.

Publisher’s Summary:Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Just like Lucy, Sydney is a good girl in the shadow of an older sibling who takes up a lot more of her parents’ attention. Saint Anything is a quiet contemporary YA that are about friendships, family and ordinary girls (although Sydney is somewhat affluent). This was the perfect read for this week. If you are looking for a great book to read during a rainy weekend that evolves subtly and creates a rich emotional landscape full of small changes, this would be a good choice.

Marvelous

27 Jul

Another fantastic ARC I got at the ALA conference was The Marvels by Brian Selznick!!!

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Unlike The Invention of Hugo Cabret and  Wonderstruck, where the pages of illustration alternate with the text, in The Marvels,  Selznick begins with 400 pages of a story told through illustration alone. This story follows five generations of a legendary family of actors, beginning with young Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck.  It is followed by about 200 pages of text which centers on a boy in 1990 who runs away from school to his estranged uncle’s enigmatic London house. Then there are 50 more pages of illustration. The two stories seem to be unrelated, but are brought together in the brief, but powerful conclusion.

The story was inspired by Selznick’s visit to the Dennis Severs’ House in London and Selznick provides an explanation about this strange inspiration in the Afterword.

I am excited that I have this copy that I can out on the shelf of my new classroom in September.

It’s Canada Day!

1 Jul

Happy Canada Day!

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Today, I have promised myself I am going nowhere, unless it is to walk the dogs. When i picked the girls up yesterday, I was so happy to see them Fiona spent the whole night drinking. She is always a thirsty girl and the Portland heat wave is still going strong. Lucy, on the other hand slept. I think just prefers the comfort of her own bed to a bed away from home.

Being Canada Day, it just seems right to talk about Canadian authors. I finished Unspeakable by Caroline Pignat on the flight home yesterday.

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Today, I plan on reading  We Are All Made of Molecules  by Susin Nielsen.

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Publisher’s Summary:Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless. Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules

It seems the perfect post ALA conference recovery plan.

Simple Beauty

27 May

I was almost brought to tears by the beauty of Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith.

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It is a deceptively simple story, told without words. A little girl is out walking with her dad along city sidewalks. She picks all the flowers she sees as she goes.

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But it is what she does with the flowers that makes this book so powerful. She delivers them to those who need them: a homeless man, a dog, her baby brother, a dead bird.

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As you can see, the book is mostly black and white, but bright spots of color share the beauty of this little person. Her actions are pure of heart. She isn’t doing this for praise or attention. And that is what makes Sidewalk Flowers  so moving.

Two birthdays

3 Feb

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Fiona shares a birthday with one of my students. V turned 10 on Sunday and Fiona turned 14. I was excited to celebrate Fiona’s birthday, but worried about V’s.

V was excited all last week. He’s been talking about his party and his birthday. I do a birthday poster for each student who has a poster. Just a piece of white butcher paper with “Happy Birthday _______” in a bubble in the center. Throughout the day classmates can write on it. V and I had talked about his poster and he decided he’d rather have it on Friday than Monday.

V has had a tough life and has difficulty with some of his peers at times. He’s the kid you have to put a lot of time and effort into but you both end up being better people at the end of it. So, as his classmates went over to sign the poster. I reminded them that if they had nothing nice to say, they should just sign their name. By the end of the day V was pleasantly surprised at how full his poster was. I was, too.

As we left the room to go to the buses at the end of the day, V asked one of his best friends if he’d be able to come to his party. The friend replied that he wasn’t sure because of the Superbowl. That’s when I started to worry. I felt really sad for him, worried he’d be that kid, the one who hosts a birthday party and no one shows up.

Fiona, on the other hand, seemed unaffected by her birthday.

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I made turkey cakes, with sweet potato frosting, which were the hit of the party. Fiona, as the birthday girl had hers served on Royal Albert china.

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Yesterday morning, V came in happy and excited, claiming he was a little wired because he ate too much cake. He was thrilled because he got drawing pads and now had a pad to draw on at home and a separate one for school. He made a few funny comments about how much harder it is to be 10, but talked very little about the party. I didn’t press it. I was just relieved that it went well enough that he came to school happy.

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.

Imaginary friends

12 Dec

As a twin, I never needed an imaginary friend, but I know lots of people who had one when they were young. My favorite belonged to a roommate I had in Colombia. Her imaginary friend was named  Chalk Lipstick.

In Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, Dory’s older siblings won’t play with her because they say she acts like a baby.

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She also has endless energy, a vivid imagination and imaginary friends. Since her siblings won’t play with her, she spends a lot of time with her imaginary friends  outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (aka time-out), and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll.

Her imagination actually helps solve the problem with her older siblings. When Dory (aka Rascal) becomes a dog she’s invisible to the little-girl–stealer but appealing to her older brother, who, it turns out, always wanted to have a dog.  Unfortunately, with this success, Dory refuses to turn back into a little girl, which turns her siblings against her again. In a final act of bravery,however, Dory proves that she is no longer a baby.

This is a great book for kids ready to move on to chapter books. Dory is six and has a very strong and compelling voice. Child-like drawings with hand-lettered speech bubbles add to the true to life humor of this book.

This would be a great  read aloud or early venture into chapter books.

Soccer Goals

24 Nov

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When I saw my class list in late August I noticed a name I recognized and knew to be a naughty boy. I was surprised when there was none of the naughtiness I anticipated. Instead, I found a young man who has to work hard at school, but was a positive influence. I just figured he had matured.

At conferences, his mother told me that he was on a soccer team and his coach had very high scholastic expectations for his players. If they don’t do their homework or get in trouble at school, they don’t play, or might even lose their place on the team. Soccer has really turned this boy around.

In Eugene Yelchin’s Arcady’s Goal,  Arcady is an excellent soccer player, but lives a bleak life in an orphanage, the son of, what Stalinist Russia called, “enemies of the people”. One day his life changes and he is adopted by one of the orphanage inspectors. Believing the inspector is actually recruiting youth players for the Soviet’s greatest team -the Red Army- in disguise, Arcady calls his new benefactor Coach, and treats him like one, always trying to impress Coach with his skills. Ivan lives up to his new title, creating a youth soccer team just for Arcady to play on. There is no escape from the labels Stalinism has put on Arcady and Coach. However, as they learn to live together, they learn that this might be the glue holding their relationship together.

Short chapters and pencil sketches keep the reader interested. I think I might like this book even more than I liked Breaking Stalin’s Nose,  which was a 2012 Newbery Honor winner. The author;s note at the end is beautiful and heart-breaking.

Memoir and Memory

26 Sep

In her author’s note at the end of  Brown Girl Dreaming,  Jacqueline Woodson says simply “Memory is strange”.

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And  free verse, a form in which Wooodson is very comfortable, seems to be the perfect vehicle for her memoir. Her voice is so clear in my head and so engaging that I couldn’t put the book down, finishing it in one sitting. The book is tender, heart-breaking and inspirational, full of love, family and place.

Place is almost a character here. Although Woodson was born in Ohio in 1963 and spent much of her youth in South Carolina before her family moved to Brooklyn. Each of these places is beautifully evoked and you can see how each had their influence on the burgeoning writer.

As much is this memoir is about writing, it is the parts about listening I find most interesting. There are a series of short, numbered  haikus throughout the book. As Jacqueline and I  moved through the book together , I noticed how they change.

How to Listen #1

Somewhere in my brain

each laugh, tear and lullaby

becomes a memory

How to Listen #2

In the stores downtown

we’re always followed around

just because we’re brown.

How to Listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

The memoir is full of family stories, and variations of family stories, as in the story of Jacqueline’s birth, that different people remember in different ways.

This is a beautiful book I hope you all take the opportunity to read.

A Delightful Read

21 Sep

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What a wonderful read! Dana Alison Levy has updated the traditional family story, introducing us to the Family Fletcher: two dads and four adopted boys, all of different backgrounds. It is an all male world and follows the family through one year, from the first day of school to the last. We see them on Family Night, Hallowe’en, camping and dealing with a grumpy neighbor.

Families have lumps and bumps and this one also has cat barf, turtle pee and lots of boy noise. I laughed out loud more than once and came to love this family. Each boy has his own challenges to face and they aren’t always resolved the way each boy hopes, as often happens on the real world. The dads tell the box, “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, to not be an expert at everything.”

The book had the same feel of the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall. Although I think this book might be a longshot for a Newbery Award, I think it is more likely to win a Stonewall Award or at least end up on the Children’s Notable.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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