Monday, August 28, 2017

For the Socially Awkward and Introverted

It's workshop week for us teachers before the start of the school year, which entails torturous community building for those of us who are socially awkward and/or introverted. I freely admit I can be socially awkward at times and introverted all of the time. At times, I don't know what to say because I'm still processing, say the wrong things because I just do, or don't say anything at all because I'm afraid of what my peers will think of me. After day one of community building, I got to thinking about how stressful this can be for many students - those who are socially awkward and/or introverted. So, my dear students, the first book recommendation is for you - especially if you feel like you don't fit in.

Adults, teachers, administrators, etc., the second book recommendation is for you!

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin 

Although the Goodreads blurb does not mention anything about Suzy (aka Zu) being an outsider in her school, she is. Suzy has one good friend, but that friendship takes a turn as the two grow older.

Goodreads blurb: 

This stunning debut novel about grief and wonder was an instant New York Times bestseller and captured widespread critical acclaim, including selection as a 2015 National Book Award finalist!

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting--things don't just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo

Today, our principal asked us, "Why? Why do you show up every day?" and then asked us to turn and share. Once again, being the introvert (see first paragraph), I needed time to process, but there wasn't much time for me to do so.  I gave some vague reply to my partner, yet the question still left me thinking as I drove home at the end of the day, while I was entranced with and finishing the book this evening, and after I had finished it. It is now 9:30 (time for bed, actually), but I need to share my thoughts on this book and why you should read it.  

Twenty years ago, if I were asked that question, I would have said, "Because I've always wanted to be a teacher."  (Oh, the young and naive me.)  Ten years ago, I would have said, "Because I love kids."  Five years ago, I would have said, "I don't really know."  (I didn't know at this point if I still wanted to teach.) Today, I think I know: "Because I truly believe the world can be better for all of us, and I can help the world be a better place by opening up my students to the wonderful world of reading and writing."  

Through Ms. Kuo's journey, she opens up the world for her students and particularly one student, Patrick, and Patrick opens up the world for Ms. Kuo. I don't want to say too much about the book because it's a lot to digest, and I don't want to taint your thinking about it by giving you my opinions. (Ms. Kuo has a good line about that near the end of the book.)  Although I do want to leave you with my favorite lines: ". . . I have to believe that two people can make a powerful impression on one another, especially in a certain kind of place, where so many have left, and in a certain time, when we are coming of age, not worn down or hardened. In these times and places we are fragile and ready." 

Goodreads blurb: 

A memoir of race, inequality, and the power of literature told through the life-changing friendship between an idealistic young teacher and her gifted student, jailed for murder in the Mississippi Delta.

Recently graduated from Harvard University, Michelle Kuo arrived in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer, bursting with optimism and drive. But she soon encountered the jarring realities of life in one of the poorest counties in America, still disabled by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one student, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening.

Convinced she can make a difference in the lives of her teenaged students, Michelle Kuo puts her heart into her work, using quiet reading time and guided writing to foster a sense of self in students left behind by a broken school system. Though Michelle loses some students to truancy and even gun violence, she is inspired by some such as Patrick. Fifteen and in the eighth grade, Patrick begins to thrive under Michelle's exacting attention. However, after two years of teaching, Michelle feels pressure from her parents and the draw of opportunities outside the Delta and leaves Arkansas to attend law school.

Then, on the eve of her law-school graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been jailed for murder. Feeling that she left the Delta prematurely and determined to fix her mistake, Michelle returns to Helena and resumes Patrick's education--even as he sits in a jail cell awaiting trial. Every day for the next seven months they pore over classic novels, poems, and works of history. Little by little, Patrick grows into a confident, expressive writer and a dedicated reader galvanized by the works of Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, W. S. Merwin, and others. In her time reading with Patrick, Michelle is herself transformed, contending with the legacy of racism and the questions of what constitutes a "good" life and what the privileged owe to those with bleaker prospects.

Reading with Patrick is an inspirational story of friendship, a coming-of-age story of both a young teacher and a student, a deeply resonant meditation on education, race, and justice in the rural South, and a love letter to literature and its power to transcend social barriers.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

We Are Okay

One of the reasons I love to read is because reading fosters empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Living, what some would consider, a fairly middle-class life, I read to understand the lives of others. Reading opens up my world to others who are not like me and helps me to be a more empathetic person, which is sorely needed in today's world. A few days ago, I finished We Are Okay by Nina LaCour; I cannot quit thinking about that book.  First off, the language is captivating and beautiful. Secondly, I felt a connection to Marin, the main character. Even though I have never experienced what happened to her in terms of the main conflict, I could relate to her experience of living a contented life and being happy. It got me to thinking about how life can change in an instant. Finally, the ending made me cry - won't tell you what happens. I do cry sometimes while reading books, but this one made me sob at the end.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour       

Goodreads Blurb:

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shaking the World Gently

As I sit here and write my latest post, I am listening to news about Charlottesville in the background. Some people are thinking, "How could this happen? This is not the America I know." But . . . this is the America that many know - people of color, LGBT, religious minorities, those who are overweight, those with disabilities, those who are in any way different . . . The events in Charlottesville this past weekend are no surprise to people who experience discrimination, prejudice, and hate on a daily basis. In writing this post, it is my hope to expand everyone's horizons with a diverse list of books. I truly believe that reading gives us the opportunity to view a world that is different from our own. Reading helps us to understand others. Mahatma Gandhi said, "In a gentle way, you can shake the world." This blog is my gentle way of shaking the world. Thank you for reading it and reading the books I recommend.

Hidden Figures (Young Readers Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly

Now in a special new edition perfect for young listeners, this is the amazing true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Soon to be a major motion picture.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This audiobook brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach (FYI - mature content)

Before the asteroid we let ourselves be defined by labels:
The athlete, the outcast, the slacker, the overachiever.

But then we all looked up and everything changed.

They said it would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we'd been, something that would last even after the end.

Two months to really live.

Ghost (Track series #1) by Jason Reynolds

Running. That's all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race -- and wins -- the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Smile (Smile series #1) by Raina Telgemeier 

Raina Telgemeier's #1 New York Times bestselling, Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir based on her childhood!

Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

Into White by Randi Pink (FYI - mature content)

When a black teenager prays to be white and her wish comes true, her journey of self-discovery takes shocking--and often hilarious--twists and turns in this debut that people are sure to talk about.

LaToya Williams lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and attends a mostly white high school. She's so low on the social ladder that even the other black kids disrespect her. Only her older brother, Alex, believes in her. At least, until a higher power answers her only prayer--to be "anything but black." And voila! She wakes up with blond hair, blue eyes, and lily white skin. And then the real fun begins . . .

Randi Pink's debut dares to explore provocative territory. One thing's for sure--people will talk about this book.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (FYI - mature content)  

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting look at a day in the life of a disturbed teenage boy, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Wall Street Journal's Best Children's Book of 2015

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Dumplin' (Dumplin' series #1) by Julie Murphy (FYI - mature content)

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Reading Quiets the Mind; Reading Opens the Mind

We are slowly coming out the other side of this awful pandemic after 14 months of being cooped up in our homes, wearing masks when we are ou...