Tag Archives: memoir

Making her point

26 Aug

I picked up an ARC of Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad. It was part of my effort to get books with covers featuring people who looked like my students. Although middle schoolers aren’t the target audience for this book, I think many of my students will enjoy reading it.

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There are several reasons why I think it will work in a middle school classroom. First is Muhammad’s honesty in her descriptions of her struggles and self-doubts. Her strict upbringing and expectations of success mirror those of my students. The book is definitely more memoir than biography because she delves deeper in some parts than in others, in the same way that I encourage my writers to tell microstories that illustrate the point they are trying to make.

Of course, I love that this is the story of a women of color who has achieved success in sports. Her dedication and personal sacrifice exemplify the grit everyone needs to succeed in whatever they undertake.

Publisher’s Summary: Growing up in New Jersey as the only African American Muslim at school, Ibtihaj Muhammad always had to find her own way. When she discovered fencing, a sport traditionally reserved for the wealthy, she had to defy expectations and make a place for herself in a sport she grew to love.

From winning state championships to three-time All-America selections at Duke University, Ibtihaj was poised for success, but the fencing community wasn’t ready to welcome her with open arms just yet. As the only woman of color and the only religious minority on Team USA’s saber fencing squad, Ibtihaj had to chart her own path to success and Olympic glory.

Proud is a moving coming-of-age story from one of the nation’s most influential athletes and illustrates how she rose above it all.

A Young Reader’s Edition is also available.

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Very often, the big difference in a young readers version of  a book is the simplification of language and the expurgation  of  scenes considered in appropriate for the audience. Ibtihaj Muhammad has lived a very disciplined life and I have no problem sharing my ARC of the “adult” version with my students. I think they will understand the struggles and successes of Ibtihaj Muhammad.

 

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Hey, Reader

6 Aug

I cry over books all the time. In fact, when I give a book talk, I tell the kids f it made me cry. It’s like a thumbs up signal. Very rarely do I cry over the back matter in a book, but I did for Jarrett J.  Krosoczka’s upcoming graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo.

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Publisher’s Summary: In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.
Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.
Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.

The book is honest and powerful and made even more so by the images of real drawings and letters from the author and several family members that are integrated effectively into the book. The palette choice is muted earth tones, and the back matter explains the colors were chosen.  Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one with a hanky. And I shouldn’t be the only one who reads – and cries over – the back matter.

There is some strong language and issues around addiction, but I feel very confident about putting this in my classroom library.

The book doesn’t come out until October, but you hear Jarrett tell his story in this TED Talk from a few years ago.

 

 

Books to save your life

25 Jul

My dad died a year ago today.

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I got a little weepy at my niece’s high school graduation when I read in the program that she had won an award from the local Masonic Lodge. My dad was a lifelong Mason and he would have been so proud to see her get that award. I like to think he was looking down on her that day.

 As a book lover, I turned to literature for some help. Shortly after his passing, I read H is for Hawk  by Helen Macdonald. Last Christmas, my twin sister gave me They left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s memoir about coping with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.

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Publisher’s Summary: After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers have finally fallen to their middle-aged knees with conflicted feelings of grief and relief. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, twenty-three rooms bulging with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum thought: How tough will that be? I know how to buy garbage bags.

But the task turns out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger difficult memories of her eccentric family growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, but unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships, with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything
 is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past, and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

I can think of many friends and colleagues, all middle-aged,  who might benefit from reading this book, who also have aging parents.

Earlier this year I read an excellent New Yorker article entitled “Can reading Make You Happier?” which was all about bibliotherapy. It turns out my local public library actually had the book mentioned in the article,  The Novel Cure  by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin.

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In my pursuit of this topic, I also came across this gem:

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There are many other similar books out there. I hope that you can find some solace, support and hope in whatever books you choose to read.

Not such a modern girl

27 Jan

I was always sort of  a nerdy kid who liked school and did the right thing. I was never a rebel, or anything close to alternative. In fact, when the word “conformist” came up in a grade 10 English class, Alan Giagnavova, the rebelish odd duck who sat in front of me,  turned in his seat, pointed at me and said, “You are a conformist.”

I never listened to really cool bands or followed the music scene.  I am still not that person, but I’m trying to read outside my usual box. As a result,  at 51, I have a number of memoirs by or about musicians on hold. Some are musicians I didn’t really listen to, and whose music I don’t necessarily like. Nonetheless I am interested in what they have to say and how they say it.

I can’t recommend Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl  enough.

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She was, still is, a member of Sleator-Kinney. I first became aware of her on Portlandia. I’ve heard her interviewed on a couple of local programs and I was intrigued by the interviews and impressed by the memoir. The writing is all that I love in memoir: intelligent, honest and emotionally vulnerable.

Publisher’s Summary:Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would be cited as “America’s best rock band” by legendary music critic Greil Marcus for their defiant, exuberant brand of punk that resisted labels and limitations, and redefined notions of gender in rock.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is an intimate and revealing narrative of her escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community, and rescue. Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the era’s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series Portlandia years later.

With deft, lucid prose Brownstein proves herself as formidable on the page as on the stage. Accessibly raw, honest and heartfelt, this book captures the experience of being a young woman, a born performer and an outsider, and ultimately finding one’s true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating power of rock and roll.

I think what I like best about the book is that it gives a real sense of what it as like to live in a world so unlike my own and it also clearly demonstrates the bands creative process. I don;t have to be a fan of her music to appreciate this fantastic memoir.

Straddling two worlds

20 Sep

The only library book I have ever lost and had to pay for was Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters. 

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I think I accidentally packed it into a box of books I was giving to Goodwill. I paid for the book, hoping someone at Goodwill would encounter it and return it to the library, but no one ever did. I hope whoever found it enjoyed it as much as I did and discovered a new writer.

I have read just about every book Engle has written because I know I am sure to get something a little different from what everyone else is writing, novels in verse focusing on the history of Cuba, picture books or novels with a Cuban or Latino connection.

Her latest book, Enchanted Air, follows that pattern, but adds a new twist. It is a poetic memoir of Margarita’s childhood growing up as a child of two cultures, United States and Cuba, during the Cold War.

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Goodreads Summary:Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

I love novels in verse and Engle seems to be a master of this genre. Her poems capture the angst of growing up, feeling torn between two countries, longing for adventure and travel, not always fitting in, confusion over politics and culture clashes, the beauty of Cuba and America. Things that a lot of kids feel , though maybe in a different way. My class this year is made up f children who are predominantly children of immigrants from India, China and Korea. Their experience straddling two worlds is not that different from Engle’s. I will recommend this to my students and I hope you do too.

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.

Knitting, Audiobooks and a Giveaway by some cool authors

23 Sep

Here’s another fun picture book about knitting:

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in Little Owl’s Orange Scarf,  by Tatyana Feeney, Little Owl’s mom has knit him a scarf. Unfortunately, it is scratchy and orange. he tries to lose it, but has little success until he goes to the zoo. Later, Mom knit him a new one, but let’s him choose the yarn.

Choosing yarn for a project is a knitter’s dilemma. You have to get the color & fibre just right for a recipient. You also have to think if expensive yarn is worth it if the recipient isn’t going to hand wash the item. I generally try to knit with washable yarn for others and save the fancy stuff for me.

I read 2 books this weekend consequently I did not knit. This is OK because I am between projects right now. Reading & knitting are mutually exclusive activities, unless you knit & listen to an audiobook, which I’ve been known to do. I always have an audiobook in the car. Right now I;m listening to Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World.

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About the giveaway:

One of my new favorite blogs, cccblogheader is giveaway tons of stuff to celebrate their first anniversary. Check out the blog and enter to win. Click HERE to enter the raffle.

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