Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Going through my mother's boxes I located a folder of my college papers. Looking through the pages I was struck by the fact that they were all hand typed sometimes more than once as I edited. I thought about all the work I put into those papers, not just the typing but the thought process and the creativity. One of the papers was a typed final essay with 7 different questions about Thomas Hardy's Far From the Maddening Crowd. I was struck by how easy having a computer makes all that writing a little bit different. A little easier to edit. And I thought...kids have it so easy these days.

And then I really thought about that statement and I quickly amended it in my head. We've created chaos for our children.  Gaming and social media, screen time and streaming or binging series after series. We've let them grow up too fast. Kids have far less time for just being kids; playing outside until dark kind of time. Activities keep them busy like soccer and basketball but competition is different than just play. I'm not going to get all the way on top of this soap box but I worry about our youngest demographic. 

Picking up my phone today I had an email concerning a new Iowa Senate bill being presented that would restrict schools from teaching social emotional learning. People in favor of the bill believe the ridiculous notion that we are trying to indoctrinate students into a specific LGBTQ lifestyle or critical race theory because we as educators want to help them manage their emotions.  And don't get me started on House File 8-removing any instruction about gender identity or all that Ron DeSantis is attempting in Florida. It's beyond heartbreaking as a teacher. Because we want kids to be themselves. Promoting empathy and kindness or teaching real history as a teacher should not make us criminals. 

I know the world is different than the 1970's and 80's when I did most of my growing up yet common human decency should still be prevalent. I fear in today's Republicans a return to a world long ago, one where anything different was the enemy. I read a picture book to young students in the library about a young girl wearing a Hijab as she begins 6th grade-it doesn't mean that I'm promoting the Muslim religion. So much to navigate in these waters. Our public schools are doing a great job everyday, taking care of all the students that we have and SEL has been a great help for all of us. With all that kids have to manage today helping them to understand themselves more shouldn't be threatening.


Monday, January 23, 2023

Demon Copperhead

"First, I got myself born. A decent crowd was on hand to watch, and they've always given me that much: the worst of the job was up to me, my mother being let's just say out of it." 

Barbara Kingsolver's opening line is a great introduction to Demon, our young hero, who will become part of the reader's heart and soul. It's a magnificent tale of heartache, addiction, family, and poverty set in the Appalachia Mountains. From the very beginning Demon is burdened with tough choices. His mother is young and grieving over Demon's dead father.  He and is mother occupy a doublewide trailer near another family, the Peggot's who are raising their grandson because his mother is in jail. He loses important parts of his family and gains others. He shows us the hardship of foster care. This is your cast of characters: people down on their luck trying to do their best but often failing in an area of our country that has been torn apart.  I loved the book so much I could start the first page again and as I finished the last paragraph I shed some tears. 

I'm glad I finished the book when I did because I was able to devote a good amount of time to it even reading a few pages before school and during lunch. I'm feeling overwhelmed with a too long to-do list and the knowledge that I'm on too many committees.  I'm on rotation this year for observation and need to complete my professional portfolio by March 1st. I have a book fair coming my way in March. I have a district-wide tech conference and planning for our school's literacy night both in February.  Beyond that I'm on our district's equity committee,  and our teacher's association, as well as daily lesson planning.  I spent most of my Sunday planning for Black History Month and a connected research project for 3rd-6th graders.  Whew. I need a night off.  

On the relaxing side I have kept up almost daily with Adriene's January yoga challenge and that keeps me together most days.  I'm headed there now to connect and wind down for the night. 

Be well.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Best of Elementary Fiction 2022


As a reader for the Iowa Children's Choice Award committee I am pushed to read quite a few interesting elementary chapter books. This year 9 took me by surprise and worth passing on to you.

1. Alone by Megan E. Freeman (2021) : This is a fabulous dystopian novel in verse about young Maddie who finds herself completely alone after a secret sleepover. She learns to survive on her own with only George, her neighbor's Rottweiler, as her only companion.

2. The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake (2019) : This was the perfect year for me to read this sweet novel about Sunny and how her heart transplant pushes her to figure out much about her life. 

3. Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman (2021) : Kabir has been in jail his whole life with his mother who was convicted of a crime she didn't commit. A new ruling pushes Kabir into an unknown world for him and he needs to learn to survive the streets of India on his own. 

4. Violets are Blue by Barbara Dee (2021) : Wren is dealing with divorced parents, a new stepmother, and trying to fit into a new school. She finds her niche helping out with makeup for a theatre production as her mother struggles with this new life without her husband. 

5. Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing (2021) : Maya is nervous about moving up to 5th grade and how her school life will go with her two best friends in a different class.  When she discovers a forgotten robot her life takes off in a new direction. 

6. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (2021) : Reha is tied between two worlds-school where she navigates being the only Indian American student and home where her parents have certain expectations for her.  She doesn't feel connected to her amma until Reha discovers that her mother is sick. 

7. Where We Used to Roam by Jenn Bishop (2021) : At the beginning of Emma's 6th grade year, just as she's making cool artsy friends, her brother is injured in a football game which sends their family on a whirlwind year. 

8. The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloane (2021) : I love Sloane's writing and this one was no exception. Sila's mother travels to Turkey to fix an immigration issue  and has been gone for a long time. Sila and her father have to learn to live on their own and the two discover quite a bit about each other with a few new friends. 

9. 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr (2021) : Rigel loves her life off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness until her parents get divorced and she has to move to Connecticut with her mother and siblings. Life is very different in her new surroundings as she learns to deal with city life, other people, and her father's betrayal. 

While the list is numbered it isn't in any particular order because each of these chapter books stand on their own with different stories to tell. I think fiction books help young people learn something new and unique about other people and cultures. Give any of these books a try and let me know what you think. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

My 2022 Adult Favorites


So many good books this year. I'm sure I say that every year but last year I only picked 6 favorites and this year I have 12. I also read more this year than last which is good thing. Enjoy my brief descriptions and let me know if you enjoyed any of these as well.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (2022) : I liked The Storied Life of AJ Fikry which prompted me to read more of her writing. This one is by far my favorite book of the year. Snappy characters combined with a very interesting story line about gaming and gamers but really it's about life, love, and deep friendship. 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (2021): I enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow and heard all the hype about this and it followed through. Emmett Watson's story will stick with you. Told from multiple points of view the tale takes shape just over 10 days. Fascinating.

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (2021) : This book really took me by surprise. I read it for book club and coming from the small publishing house of Milkweed Editions I was happily immersed in the story of Rosalie Iron Wing in the past and the present. I turned around and bought several copies straight from Milkweed to give as gifts. 

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (2021) : I'm a huge fan of everything Erdrich writes and this one told the story of the pandemic and George Floyd's murder through the main character Tookie's eyes. As an ex-convict for a bizarre crime she is out and enjoying somewhat of a good life when the world seems to turn upside down. Intense.

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2022) : I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this through NetGalley and I read it fast on my iPad, which is unusual for me as I'm more of a book in hand person. I'm not even a tennis fan but Carrie is an electric character and her life struggles as a champion tennis player were intriguing. Through all the ups and downs she is a survivor and you root for her to find happiness. I like TJR's writing skills and Daisy Jones and the Six is still one of my all-time favorite stories. 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993) : This author has been swirling around my radar for awhile and I just hadn't taken the time to read her many books. The story was hard to read because there is suffering but hope is ever present because Lauren Olamina is a survivor, always looking ahead to how she feels and the next path to take. Reading this book starts me on a journey to finish Lauren's story and to read Kindred. 

Nightcrawling by Leila Motley (2022) : Another tough story with an amazing young hero in Kiara as she fights for some kind of life in Oakland, CA. She is constantly chasing a way to make money to take care of her brother and her young neighbor and to stay in the apartment. She battles landlords and sleazy cops and yet things never really get better.  A beautifully written debut novel.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham (2022) : I heard about this on The Readheads podcast and it sounded like a perfect crime novel for me; not too scary but lots of twists and turns. I tend to be very picky about this genre and don't like it when pieces are left hanging. This was intense without scaring me and had plenty of interesting connections.

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy (2021) : Wow! This was another book club choice that amazed me with it's rich story of Inti Flynn and her sister. Inti arrives in Scotland to help a team reintroduce wolves into the area and she has a tough time fitting in with the town characters and she finds herself mixed up in a few local problems. She is a character that will stick with me plus I loved the wolf angle. Her website lists a new book, Migrations, that looks just as appealing. 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) : Second book by Zevin on my list! I read this one because I'd heard she had a new one coming out-Tomorrow and Tomorrow...- and I wanted to read something else by her first. This one, told from 5 female perspectives, is one of feminism, forgiveness, and family. Aviva's story is about making amends and the transformative power of new beginnings. Embeth Levin, the congressman's wife, tells her story of constant betrayal with such honesty that I ended up loving her even as she snaps at those around her. Everyone is carrying a heavy weight in this tale. 

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (2020) : I've read O'Farrell's This Must Be The Place which was also very interesting. Hamnet was unique in that she takes the story of William Shakespeare's family life with Agnes and his three children and shows how the story of Hamlet is born from the depths of grief. Just so interesting!

The Last Guest House by Megan Miranda (2019): This was another murder mystery about a small vacation town in Maine. I read it in 4 days because the characters of Sadie Loman, a wealthy summer resident and local Avery Greer are captivating when they connect and become friends. We quickly see the tragedy and learn more about each character and their families. This one, while compelling, did have one or two holes in the story but the overall feeling kept me turning pages. I have All The Missing Girls on my TBR pile. 

If you stuck with me to the end thank you! I've noticed that 10/12 books feature strong female characters.  My favorite conversation is always to find out what others are reading and which books you absolutely loved. Give me some suggestions. May 2023 be another great year of connecting, reading, and writing.