Tag Archives: family

The Power of a Story

23 Jul


The cover looked scary, so I almost rejected The Night Gardener  by Jonathan Auxier without opening it. When I did, I looked at the subject headings:

1. Ghosts – Fiction

2. Household employees – Fiction

3. Brothers and sisters  – Fiction

4, Orphans  – Fiction

5. Storytelling  – Fiction

6. Blessing and cursing  – Fiction

7. Dwellings  – Fiction

8. Horror stories

Number eight was worrisome because, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I have an aversion to scary stories. I have learned over time, however, many are not as scary as I fear. If you think of this list as you would an ingredients list on a food package, horror is only the 8th ingredient. Ghosts are first, but the things in between are not so bad.

So, I decided to give it a try, and like Mikey, I liked it. Do you remember Mikey?

Back to  The Night Gardener.

Molly and Kip, unaccompanied minors are driving their fish cart, pulled by their horse, Galileo, to a house everyone warns them not to go to. They feel they have no option. They are alone, unskilled, in a foreign country, and are willing to work for room and board. Molly does possess a very useful soil, aside from her willingness to work hard. She is a story-teller. The house they arrive isn’t what it seems. Something mysterious is happening and the family seems to be wasting away. The children encounter a mysterious stranger and an ancient curse. along the way, Molly tells stories and Kip wonders how a story differs from a lie. Molly thinks, “Both lies and stories involved saying things that weren’t true, but somehow the lies inside the stories felt true.” As the story unfolds, and Molly and Kip realize that they must end the curse and save the family, she elaborates:“A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.”

I had a little trouble getting into the story at first. The drama unfolds slowly, but it is worth persevering. By the middle of the book, I was hooked and wanted to see how it would end. I don;t think this is a book I would read aloud in class, but I’d definitely recommend it to some of my students who love middle grade fiction. The book feels as old as a fairy tale and is very well written, aside from the Irish Brogue, which I think Auxier could have left out.



16 Jan

Today is Lucy’s 4th GOTCHA DAY. Four years ago today, she came to live with me.


My dog, Louie, died December 7th, 2009, very suddenly as I was getting dressed for school.

Louie-Just_being Louie

His passing hit me very hard and I had no intention of getting anther one too soon. But, that was not to be. Fiona seemed to be having a hard time as an only dog. And then there was that e-mail from Oregon Basset Hound Rescue, letting people know that the post-Christmas dog dump had begun and they needed adopters. Did you know that lots of dogs get given up AFTER the holidays? OBHR has 6 new dogs this month.

So I got in touch and said that I wanted someone young. My first basset, Clara, had passed away in May 2008. If I got a new dog, I didn’t want to lose it too soon, or have it pass away shortly before or after Fiona. So, I went to meet Lucy. We arranged to have her move in on President’s Day weekend 2010. I had a class in the morning, but would get her in the afternoon. It was perfect because there was no school Monday, so we’d have a little extra time to get to know each other.

I went to my principal and let her know that I was getting a new dog and she told me I should take Tuesday off too. And so I did. Although we had some rough patches at the beginning and had to see a behaviorist, Lucy is a wonderful addition to the family. Even if she is a bed hog.


Happy New Year

1 Jan

I didn’t stay up ’til midnight last night and I haven’t made any resolutions. I did however have root beer floats and watched my sister watch the end of Season 3 of Downtown Abbey. I had already seen it and enjoyed seeing her reaction. She knew something big happened, but, like most of us, didn’t see that ending  coming.


This is my last day with my company. We’ve shopped and explored various corners of Portland, the coast and the Gorge. We have all been sick with a cold or some variation thereof. We were fortunate in that, although it was grey the entire time, there was almost no rain. Alas, there was no sighting of the elusive Mount Hood. I am posting one here, just to prove that it exists.


Once my company has gone, I have a stack of books to read and a couple of knitting projects to work on before going back to work on Monday. The family is not returning home directly. They have a basketball tournament in Stratford, Ontario and won’t get home until Sunday night. I think I get the better part of that deal.

So far today, I think  we only plan to go to the movies. We are deciding between Philomena, Catching Fire,  and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  

Wishing you all a very Happy 2014!

Odd boys

27 Dec

I have finished two really good middle grade books so far on break. Oddly enough, both feature boys who are just a little bit different.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu


Oscar is a wizard’s apprentice, well, no not really. He is a magician’s hand, but possesses knowledge and understanding of plants tat would make him a great healer. But he is shy and nervous around people, preferring the company of his cats and the books he sneaks out of the magician’s library. In fact, Oscar reminds me f me when I was young. When his Master, along with some others leave their island home, and worrisome things begin to happen, it falls to Oscar, and his new friend Callie, to save their world.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech


One day a boy appeared on the John and Marta’s porch. A note simply asked them to take care of Jacob and that the writer of the note would be back.  Jacob doesn’t talk, but has musical abilities and has a genuine nature that works his way into John & Marta’s hearts. What unfolds, gently is a story of the power of love to heal and transform, if you are willing to open your heart and home.

I’ve seen both of these titles on f best of 2013 lists, and I can see why. Both are definitely worth reading.

Search and Rescue

3 Dec

Hard to believe it looking at me now, as I teeter on the edge of 50, but I spent a large part of my teen & young adult years as a lifeguard. That, combined with teaching swimming lessons at all levels, made me decide to become a teacher.

In Mountain Dog a novel in verse by Margarita Engle,


Tony is sent to the mountains to live with his great uncle, Tio Leo because his mother has been sent to prison for keeping pit bulls and holding dog fights. This has left Tony scarred. But his Tio Leo is a gentle man who works in search & rescue with his dog, Gabe. In alternating voices, Tony and Gabe tell the story of Tony’s transition from scared  boy with an uncertain future, to a young man who sees his purpose in  life. The  black and white illustrations, by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, added nicely to the story.

A good read for kids 8-12 who love animal books.

Sure Signs of Crazy

29 Nov


Like me, Sarah was born a fraternal twin. My mom used to bathe my twin sister and I in the kitchen sink. Sarah’s mother tried to drown her in their kitchen sink when she was two. She succeeded with her brother.

In  Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington, we spend the summer between 6th and 7th grade with Sarah. Her 6th grade teacher has challenged his pupils to write a real letter during the summer. Sarah takes this idea nd runs with it. She writes letters to Atticus Finch, talks to her Plant, develops her love of words and generally  monitors herself to decide if she will go crazy like her mom.

Harrington succeeds in creating a genuine likable and believable character in Sarah. I felt the book started off a little on the slow side, but my perseverance was rewarded with a wonderful coming of age novel. This one is sure to be on one of the end of the year “best” lists.

Oh, that Kevin Henkes

18 Nov

We thought it was a good idea, so we played nicky-nicky nine doors at Pauline Mary Knowles’ house. You may have called it something else but that was our name for it. We were on our way home from roller skating on  Friday night in grade 8 and decided to play this little joke. We certainly didn’t expect Mr. Knowles to chase us down the street. He was really nice about the whole thing. But my sister and I felt guilty when we got home. Even though we tried to go to bed, we couldn’t sleep, so we got up and told our mom, who was also pretty nice about it, too.

I got thinking about this while reading Kevin Henkes’ Penny and Her Marble.


Penny finds a marble in her neighbor’s yard. Then, one day, she sees the neighbor and thinks she has lost the marble Penny now has, and loves. What should she do? The problem gnaws at her.


I won’t spoil the ending for you, but young Henkes’ fans will really enjoy this book.

For older readers, Henkes has  The Year of Billy Miller. 


This is a chapter book, cleverly divided into 4 chapters entitled Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. While moving the story along, each chapter gives us a glimpse into an aspect of Billy’s life. This is not a wacky novel full of second grade hijinks, but a quiet collection of important moments in a little boy’s life, that I think a lot of kids can connect with.

I always like to balance out my read alouds,  alternating male & female protagonists, action and quiet novels, comedy and drama. This would be an excellent read aloud right after something like Clementine. It is definitely well worth it.

The turbulent 60’s

7 Nov

How much can a six year old understand her father’s deployment? In 1968, Suzanne Collins’ father was sent to Viet Nam. Her new picture book,  Year of the Jungle, gives us some insight.


Young Suzy’s understanding expands throughout the year. Beginning with a view of the jungle based on her experience  of a Saturday morning cartoon (I’m pretty sure she watched George of the Jungle) we see her excitement over the postcards her dad sends and her understanding of the temporary shifts in her family dynamic with her father away. Then, fewer postcards arrive and there is a long silence.We are with Suzy  the evening she first sees the war on the evening news on a TV set someone forgot to shut off. We watch the understanding dawn  and feel the pain  and worry that comes with realization of where her dad is and what he is most likely doing.

This sis a serious book and the cartoon-like illustrations by James Proimos are perfect and a little reminiscent of  George of the Jungle.  Here’s one from the book:


Here’s one from the 60’s cartoon:


On a more dystopian note, Todd Strasser’s Fallout imagines a world in which the Cuban Missile Crisis ended with nuclear war.


In alternating chapters, we see the neighbors scoff, as the narrator’s dad builds a bomb shelter to hold his family and what life is like when they are actually living in it. At first, this style irritated me, but then, I realized that it really helps understand the characters and how they behave in the shelter. In the middle of the night in late October, when the unthinkable happens, those same neighbors force their way into the shelter before Scott’s dad can shut the door. With not enough room, not enough food, and not enough air, life inside the shelter is filthy, physically draining, and emotionally fraught. I was slow to warm to the book, but was glad I didn’t give up on it.

Seventh heaven

5 Nov

It was a cold & rainy weekend here, so I spent much of my time curled up on the sofa with Fiona, Lucy and Willow. She’s the main character in Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.


I think  we have another Newbery contender here.

Willow Chance is a genius and a social misfit. As quirky as she is, she actually reminds of a couple of kids I’ve taught, so she was believable. Even the way she speaks reminds me of someone in 4th grade right now. It is not normal kidspeak, but it is authentic.

When her parents die, she is in limbo, as she has no other living relatives. She must leave her home and her beloved garden which she spent a lot of time in.   A friend’s family takes her in and so begins the cultivation of a new life for Willow. In the tradition of  Because of Winn-Dixie,  this is a story of the families we make. It is funny and heart-breaking. My only criticism is the ending, which seemed rather rushed, but was still satisfying.

Willow is obsessed with the number 7. Near the end of the book, she’s thinking about the number 7 and comes to this conclusion:

I think that at every stage of living, there are 7 people who matter in your world.

They are the people who are inside you.

They are the people you rely on.

They are the people who change your life.

So, who are your 7 people?

Losing my religion

4 Nov


The title grabbed me first.  But, Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust by Leanne Lieberman is worth reading, regardless of how the title makes you feel. It is a smart, funny novel about trying to find you place in the world.

Lauren Yanofsky doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore. She’s tired of reading about it, attending Jewish youth camps and family vacations to Holocaust memorials. She sees it as a religion of loss, grief, and persecution. And hen, But Lauren sees some of  boys  from her school, including the boy she has a crush on, playing Nazi war games, she is faced with a terrible choice: betray her friends or betray her heritage.

I liked many things about this novel. First, it felt real. These are pretty ordinary kids and they deal with all the  issues that high school students are forced to deal with on a daily basis: friendship, identity, belonging, etc. Next  Lauren and her brother Zach are learning to exert their independence from their parents in a positive way. Finally  Lauren’s struggle with her heritage is described in an entertaining and also thought-provoking way that make the novel highly readable for teens.

A good read that takes a slightly different tack on teen issues.

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