Saturday, February 28, 2015

Debut author Amanda Maciel writes scary high school portrayal...

 School can be a frightening place as students of any age try to fit in with an ever changing norm.   Amanda Maciel does an amazing job of making this high school story very real.  I don't teach in a high school and my hope is that it isn't this bad but I have a feeling I could be wrong...

Emma Putnam, a new student,  who somehow gets on the wrong side of Brielle and subsequently her followers, Sara, Noelle and a few male characters.  Emma is pegged as a slut as she tries to make her way through every day with mean people surrounding her.

They push her around physically and emotionally using FB and Twitter.  They taunt her every single time they see her.  They put fake Valentine's Day cutouts on her lawn.  They create a vicious FB page for her.  And while Emma feels like she has a few friends they often turn on her if Brielle is near. Noone wants to go against Brielle.  The line is so's much easier to be a bystander or even worse join right in so Brielle might like you more.  Why do girls allow a mean queen bee take control like this?

I would love to see this book told again through Emma's side.  She's human and makes a few mistakes along the way which is just what gives Sara justification to keep taunting her. It is Sara that we follow through alternating monthly chapters of before and after Emma's suicide.  Eventaully she understands how her (and Brielle's) behavior adversely effected Emma; enough for Emma to lose any hope.

This was hard to read, it hurt my heart, and I so wanted to step in and alternately "shake" each character.  Words are what hurt and until we really help kids get this bullying will remain an issue. 

How can we teach children at the elementary level to respect each other and spread peace and joy instead of nasty barbs.


Sara's thoughts:

I try to look away, but it's like my head is stuck.  She and Beth are talking in low voices, and Emma looks like she's been crying or something.  She always looks that way-when she's not flirting with some guy or whatever. Or even when she is, sometimes.  She's this permanent bruise, always getting her feelings hurt, always injured.  Everyone at school knows she sees a therapist, and I wonder why they haven't just put her on antidepressants already. Or ones that actually work. (113)

That's just how Brielle was.  That's what no one gets, I think-she would tease you even if she did like you.  Especially if she liked you.  And then if someone was mean to her, or to one of her friends, she'd turn that teasing on to them.  It would be a lot less nice, of course.  It was pretty tough sometimes.  But-and suddenly I know this, standing here with Carmichael, in the middle of passing period, in the middle of nowhere-that's her survival instinct. That's just how she deals. (237)

Excellent, well-crafted characters mixed with a very current and real crisis made for a strong story and from a debut author!  I'm interested in whatever she writes next.  While we are waiting this interview with Amanda is worth it!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Are you watching the Oscars?

We are and we had friends over to share the night with and it's fun to watch with others as we "judge" dresses, hairstyles, and handsome guys!  Neil Patrick Harris is doing a fantastic job of hosting-perfect amount of dry wit and silliness/underwear.

I was up early this morning making dough for homemade pizzas, cut up veggies, cheeses and cooked good Italian sausage + more to enjoy.  Our friends brought salad, chocolates, wine, and beer.  We filled out Oscar ballots and had fun watching everyone stroll down the red carpet in the rain.

This event is part of my NY's resolution to have a new person over for dinner once a month and two months out I'm still going strong.  This was a little bit more stressful event though as my husband had a play open last night, my stepmother was an overnight guest last night, and my amazing in-laws are arriving this week plus I've had a lot of balls in the air at work.  We pulled it off though and I'm pretty sure everyone had fun.

My reason for making this a resolution; I worry about the cleanliness of my house.  I don't like to clean house.  Why would I want to dust when I can be reading?  I do love to cook though so I made a promise to worry more about what I could make for people instead of where dust bunnies are hiding. The pizza was a hit and nobody mentioned any dust.  This is now my measure of success.

Also we made this kickass batch of mint fudge.  It was delicious and we made a double batch (super smart) so we can share it with our incoming guests.

Our Oscar comments feed:

What's with so many red dresses?

What up with Lady Gaga gloves?

The Lego movie rocks!

Lots of  hair that really looks a lot like "bed hair"

So happy that Patricia Arquette won! And her speech was wonderful.

Reese and Anna Kendell looked fantastic.

Felicity Jones looked great.

Scarlett: amazing dress shade!

Mmmm. John Legend.

We all agreed we would like a Lego Oscar statue....

Thank you. That's it. Good night.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

John Irving, master storyteller

My eyes were blurry and yet I kept reading.  I just wanted to finish and find out how Owen Meany died.  It's a critical question in the book as the last half is focused on the fact that Owen knows when he is going to die based on a recurruing dream he has.  His best friend John is in the dream as well as a group of Vietnamese children.  Owen has trouble with the details but he is certain enough that he carves his own gravestone marker at his parent's quarry.  To be that certain that your dream is accurate, to be so certain of your faith are all part of Owen Meany's character-that and his crazy voice.

It's not an easy book to finish. I feel all of February has been dedicated to this book and usually in that amount of time I can get at least 2-3 books finished.  Not so with a John Irving novel.  My friend Sue picked this for our book club selection this month and I was glad as I'd never read it.  My husband and another friend Tim both pick this as one of their favorites.  After the first 10 pages I wasn't so sure-I especially disliked the super long chapters-and I pushed through that only to really fall in love with the story.  It has so many great connecting ideas and what it has to say about faith and friendship are great reminders to us all.

Thank you Sue for making this a book club pick and for a great book club discussion.

I heard a little "amen" in Owen's voice when I shouted "I finished" last night.

I heard there is a movie.  Anyone watched it?

Also two very different covers...I prefer the armadillo version myself.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Time flies...

It seems absurd to me that I've not written since the beginning of the month.  I feel like I'm in the middle of about a hundred projects both at school and home.

And so quickly two weeks sped by...

I've been reading A prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and it is taking me forever.  I'm enjoying the story and I've read other Irving titles yet I can't help but feel I'd like to cross out a couple of hundred words for him.  Excellent story though and I constantly feel a little anxious worrying about Owen.

I've been reading it seriously since the beginning of the month which is making me feel a bit book-backed up.  I have a 6th grade group reading Prodigy by Marie Lu and I've fallen way behind them. Two students have already finished and I'm on, like, the 3rd chapter.  What kind of discussion leader will I be?  Hmm.

I also finally got a new copy of The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen that I'm anxious to get back to and finish. {If you're wondering why that's important read here } I have three books I need to read and be ready to discuss with two friends in Arkansas by the time Spring Break rolls around. I have quite a few still checked out from the library and even more recently downloaded from Net Galley.  I also need to read Ghosts of Graylock to see if it is too scary for some of our students.    See what I mean by book-swamped!  I can see the headline: Librarian found buried alive under mountain of her own books!

Reading is not a chore; it's one of my greatest pleasures.  I just need more real time to do it in.  I'm grateful for the books that surround me, the stories they share with me, and the true joy it brings me to discuss books with kids and adults alike.  The laundry and recycling will just have to wait.  I'll be spending my day with Owen.

I hope you find time for all your favorite pleasures on Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I'm crushed; my baby is growing up!

It happened.  About a week or so ago Groovy Girl and I started another night time book and there were a few nights she opted out of reading. In the past she is generally excited to read and it is encentive to get ready for bed and wind down.  She has trouble getting into the mode and storytime has been our bridge, the cuddling that goes with it and the story all lead to an easy bedtime routine.  It doesn't hurt that she's my baby and I loved this special time.

Just a few chapters in to the new book she announced to me as she was preparing for bed that she just wasn't that interested in reading together anymore.  This is what it sounded like to me "I don't love you and your little stories ANYMORE!"  Ackkkk.

After my initial reaction, we had a nice talk about this new stage of her life journey, and she said things like "Mom I am 12 you know!"  As if I'd forgotton.  Then I made a comment that she would now have to read a lot more on her own as us reading together counted to me as reading time for her.  Reading is an issue for Groovy Girl.  It's not her first choice of a leisure activity.  She likes YouTube, Minecraft, Sims, and crafting. She loves watching movies on Netflix.  She is creative, outgoing, and fiesty. She is a dancer and pirouettes her way through the house several times in a day but sitting down with with a good book is the very last thing on her list.  The very last thing.  I often hand her a book only to find her back on her iPod.  I've taken the iPod away to make my point but that doesn't feel right to me as then I've just made reading an even bigger chore.

While we were talking I said that her older brother and sister were heavily into reading Harry Potter and beyond when we stopped reading together.  She was a baby at the time so she doesn't recall but they were often found (and still to this day) curled up with a good book.  I know I have to let this go but I'm worried she won't have that same joy. Curling up with a good YouTube video is not the same.  Ackkkk.

We did compromise.  We didn't quit cold turkey.  She said we could finish this current book, Circa Now by Amber McKee Turner, and it's good but I'm a bit sad that we're not finishing with something classically amazing.  Maybe she'll change her mind.  Especially when I lay down the new Groovy Girl reading expectations.

Any advice for this tough time?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Grasshopper Jungle

If you want to discover stacks and stacks of good books at your local library you need my friend Tina to go with you.  Any time I meet her there she loads me up as we walk down the shelves. On our last trip she handed me Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith and said "here read this, because I can't, and let me know how it is."  She's not a fan of dystopia but she was interested in the Iowa setting.

So I read it and for the first 40 pages I kept thinking I should quit.  And then I'd read a little more and a little more and then it started to grow on me.  At about the half way point I couldn't stop reading which made me laugh because that's just what I tell my students-keep going~the really good stuff doesn't always happen in the beginning.  I didn't almost give up on it though because stuff wasn't happening-it was the main character, Austin, that drove me nuts.  He's telling us the story as a sort of historical document and we really get to know Austin-it's his coming-of-age tale after all-right in the middle of the end of the world.

My thoughts were poor Austin all he can think about is being horny and every single page is about his desire to have sex, shit, masturbate, sex, shit, masturbate, with a lot of smoking mixed in.  And then just when I thought I couldn't take his relentless need to talk about it all so much I let it slide~after all he's 15~and began to appreciate what Austin had to say about his relationship with Robby, his best friend.  I loved that he was so confused about his relationship with both Robby and his girlfriend, Shann because it's tough to be in love with two people at the same time.  His friendship with Robby was a breath of fresh air because he cared so deeply.  I grew to like him.

I also thought it was a realistic look at small town Iowa with it's boarded up shops, crazy family drama, and lots of corn. And the book definetely makes a case for not messing with genetics. Say no to GMOs of any kind.  And Austin does a great job of reminding us that everything is connected and life is a massive game of 6 degrees of seperation.

Now the huge  6-foot-grasshopper creepy things I can't even talk about them...

Someone on goodreads mentioned that you either get Andrew Smith or you don't~and I completely agree.  This book is not for everyone but it is good.

Now you don't have to read it Tina. I thank you for handing it to me though even if my hand now feels a little grubby.

A sample:

It took me a very long time to work up the nerve to kiss Shann Collins, who was the first and only girl I had ever kissed.  
     There was a possibility that I'd never have kissed her, too, because she was the one who actually initiated the kiss.
     It happened nearly one full year after the Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy End-of-the-year Mixed-Gender Mixer.
     Like Robby explained to her: I was shy.
     I was on the conveyor belt toward the paper shredder of history with countless scores of other sexually confused boys.  
     After the Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy End-of-the-year Mixed-Gender Mixer, I tried to get Shann to pay more serious attention to me.
     I tried any reasonable method I could think of. I joined the archery club when I found out she was a member, and I offered multiple times to do homework with her. Sadly, nothing seemed to result in serious progress.

She finally comes around when he gets in trouble at school for reading The Chocolate Wars by Robert Cormier.   If you can handle it you should read it. Welcome to Eden if you do.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Even librarians make mistakes...

You know it's easy to lose a book in a house full of books even when you are a librarian!  My friend Tina and I have often joked how we are terrible examples of library book care as we've both had to pay not only overdue fines but  for lost books as well.

Today I opened up several boxes from Scholastic that I ordered using our book fair $$.  Inside one of the boxes was a copy of The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson and I cringed a little. My school library had a copy of this book when I started the year off-mind you this IS my very 1st year here-and I was reading it at school as my "I'm reading" example book (loosely translated to the book I read a page or two out of to demonstrate to students what a good reader looks like as they read near me; trust me it works).  I'd gotten to the half way point in the book and was pretty engaged so that Friday I stuck it in my backpack and carted it home with high hopes to finish it that weekend.

Saturday (way back in November) I toted The False Prince with me in my little "31" bag as I went off to work our church Christmas bazaar, where I am in charge of the used book sale. When we finished setting up I set it on the counter because I thought for sure during a lull that I would be able to read a chapter or at the very least a few pages paragraphs.  That lull never came and at the end of the bazaar after Teri and I counted the money and closed up shop I went to pick up my book (more accurately my library's book)  and lo and behold all heck broke loose because it was GONE!  Now I must be completely honest here and admit that the table I had set this book on was also the table where we exhanged money for books and bagged sold books up for happy buyers.  Really, really a poor choice on my part.

So when I pulled this new copy of The False Prince out of the Scholastic box I felt sad that I'd lost the first copy.  This is why when students come to us with the crazy excuses they have for losing a book I have to look at them with total empathy.  I've walked in their shoes.

Somewhere out there is a copy of The False Prince sitting in the bottom of someone's Target bag of books, waiting to be found.  Maybe someday it will be returned to our church or to our school as it is stamped inside.  Maybe it will even be returned with my book mark sticking out.  Who knows? More than likely the book buyer will just shrug their shoulders and think "I don't remember buying this one but it looks good!" and they'll proceed to move the book mark back to the beginning.

Maybe every year I could lose a book to remind myself to stay humble and remember how tough it is for most kids to come in and admit that their new puppy chewed their chapter book to cardboard bits.
And I still need to finish the rest of Jennifer Nielson's excellent book.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dinner w/ Friends

Last night I made dinner for two friends who've recently moved into our neighborhood.  It's been my resolution even before New Year's Eve that I would host more dinners with friends.  It sounds easy enough...invite people over and cook them good food.  But where it gets tricky is cleaning of the house space and coordinating calendars can be complicated as well at least in our house.

I like a clean house but I'm not great at keeping it up because, well, I like to read more.  And watch Gilmore Girls with Groovy Girl more.  And play Ruzzle or WWF on my Kindle more.  But all that aside it is a goal for the new year to entertain more, cleaning is optional.

I actually found this recipe when I sampled Jamie Oliver's app on my phone.  I haven't paid to get the app and I'm not actually sure I will (anyone else have it and like it?)   This recipe caught my attention easily and then I thought of this couple, Kathleen and Evan, and knew they would like this dish as well.
{Jaime Oliver's; mine looked quite similar though}

Tarka Daal

(Tarka Daal is lentil heaven-garlicky with a little bit of a kick, eat it with your favorite naan bread or along with lots of little sides) Serves 4.


1 cup red lentils
1 cup yellow split peas
2 red onions
6 cloves of garlic
2 ripe tomatoes
2 fresh red chilies
1/2 bunch of cilantro
1 tsp hot chili powder
1 pinch of Spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp ground tumeric
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
sea salt

1. Peel and thinly slice the onions and the garlic. Halve, seed, and finely chop the chilies and roughly chop the tomatoes.

2. Pick the cilantro leaves and put aside, then finely chop the stems.
3. To a large saucepan, add the onions, chilies, tomatoes, cilantro stems, the lentils, split peas and one third of the garlic.

4. Place the pan on a high heat, pour in 6 cups of cold water and bring to a boil.

5. With a metal (I use wood) spoon scoop away any froth from the top, then add the chili powder, smoked paprika, tumeric and a pinch of salt.

6. Reduce the heat a little and simmer gently for 35-40 minutes, or until the legumes are cooked and the sauce has thickened, stirring regularly.  Meanwhile...

7. Make your table look respectable-get the flatware, salt, pepper, and drinks laid out nicely.  (This step made me smile and made me prepared, which is good).

8. Roughly 5 minutes before the daal is ready, place a small frying pan on a medium heat.

9. Add the vegetable oil, followed by the cumin and the remaining garlic and fry gently for 1-2 minutes, or until the garlic is golden.

10. Swirl the cumin and garlic through the daal, tear over the reserved cilantro leaves and seve with your favorite flat bread.

It was quite good and I'm excited for today's lunch of leftovers.  When I make it next time I will put more heat in it.  I didn't add the fresh chilies as I was afraid it would be too hot for Groovy Girl.  She didn't eat it anyway so I'm going all out next time and kicking it up a few notches but the flavor was splendiforous!  We had naan and chapattis to dig in with and I served it with brown rice.  I did bring extra spice to the table so anyone could spice it up more.  Only Evan shook some chili powder onto his 2nd portion.  They brought a lovely spinach salad which was a perfect companion to the daal.

Usually with friends we might sit around and talk or play a board game but on this particular night we had tickets to the university's women's BB game so we picked up quickly and headed off to the game.

My goal has been successful for the first month and I didn't die because the house was not immaculate!