Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Fabulous Summer Reading List

When I was growing up I loved reading. My favorite characters were Pippi Longstocking, Ramona, Claudia (Mixed Up Files), Judy Blume books and The Borrowers.  I was constantly reading and spent a lot of time at our local library. I was in a library book club and I remember we read Watership Down and The Hobbit. I read Johnny Tremain as a kid and loved it. These books built empathy for me, made me laugh, and gave me the feeling of comfort and well-being. 

Today’s world of kids lit is like an explosion of variety! So many many choices! While we did have Cleary, L’Engle, Blume, and Konigsburg we didn’t yet have the brilliance of Kate DiCamillo, Allan Gratz, Katherine Applegate, Stuart Gibbs, Dan Geminhart, Jacqueline Woodson, or Jason Reynolds. That’s just a handful that come to mind and my library is filled with many other great authors. And furthermore we didn’t have graphic novels! Sure we had comics but that style was not my jam. I love graphic novels! 

The last few summers I've donated a lot of my reading time to reading elementary fiction books that are on our state award list. I love being on the committee to choose the next round of books because I have a good amount of young readers who love to read and challenge themselves to read the books on the list.  I get to read a whole batch of really excellent stories. I'm not going to tell you about each one of these stories but know they are excellent. 

I start off the list with Tom Lake by Ann Patchett which is adult fiction that I decided to listen to using the Libby app because I read that Meryl Streep narrated the story and she was amazing! This story focuses on summer stock theatre and the play Our Town.  The rest of the list is all elementary fiction with a few graphic novels thrown in.  Just Keep Walking was an adventure to read as the mother/daughter team hike The North Shore of Lake Superior. First State of Being is interesting science fiction tale about friendship. Half Moon Summer deals with a young boy watching his dad deal with an illness. 

Even amidst all this reading I am having a great summer. I've done a far amount of traveling starting back in the spring with a weekend trip to Cleveland to watch my nephew, Jasper, graduate from Case Western. And we just arrived home from a family trip to Asheville, NC. Road trips are the best; I like to drive as much as I like to sit in the passenger seat and read page after page. I'm headed to Minneapolis in a week to hear some live music with my brother and sister-in-law. And in August I am taking a very exciting trip with my friend Barb.  Summer is the BEST!

Whether you read the new stories or the classic stories be sure to keep reading...

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Summer is here!!

 I’ve always loved summer. When I was young it meant spending many afternoons out on the lake in our boat or along the shore splashing and playing with siblings and friends. My dad was a big boat person which is amazing because he grew up in landlocked Iowa. He did fish in several rivers near here as a young man but where did he fathom the idea of becoming a boating man? It’s a wonder. 

We left Iowa for Fairmount, MN the summer before I started kindergarten and we bought a big old stucco house on a hill straight up from Budd Lake. This is where I remember splashing and playing in the water. We learned to water ski here starting off from shore with an adult holding on to us to keep us straight, skis up, arms out. In the beginning we were often dragged for a bit, faces full of water before dropping off. Eventually we got the hang of it and went round and round the lake pulled behind our red boat. We spent Sundays after church out on the lake where we would read in the boat with snacks in between skiing and racing around. 

There was a sense of freedom on the boat and the lake. It seemed charmed even though the boat was small-ish. Eventually my dad did buy a bigger boat but my mom was mad at him for weeks. Once we moved to New Ulm we started to travel with the boat. We found lakes and rivers  around that region to enjoy including the St Croix and Mississippi River and Lake Superior which was crazy with all the large cargo ships, three times our size. 

Eventually we moved to the Okoboji area in the NW corner of Iowa and that was a spectacular chain of lakes to enjoy. I spent many days on that lake skiing, learning to slalom, and racing around on our blue boat. 

I miss those days of adventure and joy. The sun strong on your body, the water cool and refreshing, and the laughter. Happy times. 

Now my happy times are traveling with my children. Three years ago we traveled to the Finger Lakes region of NY and Tristan’s choice was for us to rent a boat! We found a marina and did just that with both he and I driving the boat around. We jumped in and enjoyed the fresh water and enjoyed checking out the waterfalls around the south part of the lake. It made me happy that he was drawn to boating. 

I also love heading north to boat on Minnetonka with my brother and his family. He loves to race around the lake just like our dad did. We used to beg my dad to go fast which would make my mom yell as things (including us) would fly up in the boat. Such joy. 

Friday, May 31, 2024

Political moves

Over the last few years I’ve had the odd political call asking me if I believe so and so is doing a good job and I never gave it much thought as to who was making the phone calls or where they came from. Then my foster son Anton called me from the great state of Georgia telling me he and his cousin had been recruited to "canvas" through Marietta, GA with flyers against Biden. In fact he called it "Bidenomics" as in we can't take 4 more years of Bidenomics!  I said... whaaaaat? And he read from the flyer (as if he believed it telling me about the high cost of living, the price of gasoline, etc. I proceeded to explain how oil prices were not set by the president, that oil companies are making record profits right now and that prices were still high due to the pandemic not Biden. He listened and then we talked about how he came to have the job.  

They were recruited with posters in their neighborhood promising good wages for walking around Georgia. They were given plane tickets and housing in an AirBB with three other recruits from Florida; all immigrants from either Haiti or Cuba. All of them just looking for money, of course. They were told to look for houses with the American flag waving out front, to avoid confrontations, and to leave a flyer if no one was home. The Bidenomics flyer, that is. I know I live in LaLa Land in my head and that my brother will tell me that this is the way the world works but for me I'm just disgusted with an organization that recruits in economically-challenged neighborhoods to gather young people of color to push back against the exact president that stands for them. 

Right now I'm no fan of Bidens' myself but for deeper reasons like the genocide happening in Palestine and also he's really much too old for another 4 years. I don't know what to do about that except we need young people to keep moving through the ranks, willing to be involved. People like Maxwell Frost-who I donate to on the regular. 

Every single time I see a Trump sign posted or waving in someone's yard I see "crazy rapist" spray painted across it in bright cherry red letters. Can't help it. I cannot see the other side on this one; a man with so many transgressions, horrible character flaws, and now, 34 felony counts against him. We are truly living in some kind of wacky upside down world. We absolutely cannot have a convicted man run for the highest office. Imagine just for a minute if this were the other side. They would never stand for it except when it’s their rundown cheater. They plan to stand by their man. 

We can all do our part to make sure Trump is not re-elected. Vote blue, talk about it with your friends, and find a young politician to support. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

April Gifts

 She’s home! Our traveler returned a week ago and she’s happy to be home. She missed cooking in the kitchen so she’s made several fantastic dinners. It is so appreciated to have someone else making food to eat. That is an unexpected treat. She is very creative with her recipes. 

I love listening to her traveler tales and am grateful she had a positive experience each step of the way. She’s grown up a bit and seems to be more confidant because she’s had to be out there making her own decisions, figuring things out in a different country. I am very happy to have the next few months with her here before she steps in a new direction. 

It is finally feeling like spring out there and my tulips are showing their colors. My daffodils didn’t have much of a chance after blooming early right before a cold snap. The weather is very up/down, topsy turvy but I’m grateful for warmer weather. I love spring weather and it means summer is around the corner. 

My last three books made for great reading! 

1. The Maid by Nita Prose-fun little cozy mystery, I’m ready to read the second one.

2. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson-interesting family story, with alternating narratives, time periods, and countries.

3. Her Last Affair by John Searles - a creepy mystery with a set of bizarre characters!

Enjoy whatever gifts come your way…be it sunshine, a good book, or family time. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Let's take a trip!

March weather was very up and down, freezing cold days mixed with sunshine, and snow. Tristan and I headed south for spring break-a rare treat for us-to visit Japhy in Mexico! In February she finished her yoga training and after a little extra travel there she headed north to Bacalar, Mexico to work at a resort. We decided this was a great opportunity to visit her. 

There are always multiple steps to travel for us because we don’t live near a major airport. We drove to Minneapolis, stayed in a park & ride hotel, took the shuttle early early in the morning and then waited for the airport personnel to arrive. Note to self: do NOT arrive before 3:30am for your flight as the airport will be empty. But once we made it through ticketing we were ready to board for our 6am flight and we made it to Cancun by 11:30am. Air travel is an amazing thing. 

Tristan was thrilled to take on the adventure of driving in Mexico- I was nervous but it turned out to be an interesting challenge with no problemas. It was like driving through a video game with lots of roundabouts, big speed bumps, and cars passing on both sides. Crazy and we made it. He and I stopped in Playa del Carmen and picked a place for lunch. First language mistake: I ordered a shrimp ceviche without realizing it-it said cucumber!  All I can say is we loved the cucumbers and I did eat a few shrimp. Luckily we had guacamole and chips as well. We both wondered about vegan options for the rest of the week. 

No need to worry as it turned into what Tristan coined our “Mexican Anthony Bourdain trip”! We feasted and ate almost exclusively vegan in Bacalar and our return two days in Cancun. The food was amazing and I’m dreaming of it still. We had vegan burgers at Mango Y Chili our first night and they were delicious. Here’s an overall list in case you need to go just for the food:

Madre Masa- Tristan and I had lunch here, we had yummy veggie sandwiches 

Mi Burrito- a hippie food truck with amazing food and great outdoor atmosphere

La Playita- dinner one night with Japhy and her friend Klara. I had fried avocado tacos- amazing and we sat by the lagoon. 

Salon OP69- went for an appetizer while we waited for our dinner place to open- this is the only place we sat inside, it was cool and Arturo, our wonderful waiter took good care of us. I had a fiery margarita. See picture below.

Nixtamal- Japhy and I split a delicious tuna with grilled pineapple and Tristan had a pasta dish. We each received a refreshing shot glass of house kombucha. 

El Manatí- last meal in Bacalar and it was a delicious vegan brunch. I had chilaquiles which were amazing and I hope to recreate these at home. 

It was very difficult to say goodbye to Japhy but onward we went back up the coast to Cancun. We ran into a major traffic jam that held us up for about an hour. After getting into Cancun, finding our Airbnb, Tristan located Las Cepages, a French restaurant that was walkable. This was our least exciting meal but the atmosphere was lovely and I enjoyed a good glass of red with my house special fish dinner. The next day we discovered Bao Vegan and we were so excited by the menu that we each ordered two entrees. I had a mashed potato enchilada with mole sauce. The waiter was adorable and laughed at us ordering such a lot of food. I would love to have several restaurants like this at home-why are we not able to support healthy and delicious food like this? 

Tristan and I made it home by nightfall and had a great time talking about our adventures. We did take a sailing adventure around the lagoon which was a lovely afternoon. Make sure to wear a hat as you are not allowed to wear sunscreen in the water due to its delicate eco system.  Japhy is still traveling around in the Oaxaca region of Mexico with friends and will be back mid-April. I am really ready for spring weather and flowers. Unfortunately because of the weird weather my daffodils are so confused. 



Thursday, February 29, 2024

Goodbye February

 It’s been a crazy month and I’m not sad to see the calendar page turn. It’s been a weird work month with students. I think the recent snow moon factored into lots of behavior issues. Or that it’s a leap year…The weather has fluctuated rapidly. Bitter cold one day and the next 65 degrees. My daffodils and tulips are popping up and I worry for the little green shoots because we could possibly have more snowfall. 

And now March begins with a Scholastic Book fair where we try to get books into the hands of as many students as we can. Then Spring Break begins and I’m taking a trip to Bacalar, Mexico with Tristan to meet up with Japhy. I’m very excited to be in the sunshine but I’m also just a tad nervous for Mexico. I don’t speak Spanish fluently and I know there’s a lot of unrest in the country. I just hope all goes smoothly. I’m very excited to hug Japhy as she’s been gone since January. Her journey with yoga training and traveling through Guatemala and now Mexico have gone well. She will return home to us in mid-April. She says she’ll be ready for a real long hot shower. 

I’ve read one great book this month - We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. It tells the story of one Polish Jewish family through WWII. I’ve leaned quite a bit more about how the war affected this country. Many historical fiction stories about the war focus on Germany and the concentration camps or spies. My fifth grade students are researching WWII because we are reading Rescue by Jennifer A. Nielsen. There are so many layers to understand and my hope is they can see Hitler’s actions of dehumanizing a group of people and see how that can happen today as well. It’s always my plan to tie it into today’s world. Peace and love to you…

(Snow Moon resource)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Life Stories

My grandparents have been on my mind the last few days and my reflection is a mishmash of  my memories of them. My paternal grandparents Myldred and Edward Matz were an interesting couple. Edward immigrated from Russia when he was a young man. I don't know a lot about his story unfortunately because he never talked about it with us or my dad.  Myldred, on the other hand, loved to talk and she doted on her two sons, Roger and Jerry. I remember her love of jewelry as she always wore big earrings and matching necklaces. The above photo has me right next to my older brother Mike, Uncle Jack, my Great Grandmother Holmes, Myldred and Ed. My Aunt Virginia was most likely the photographer.  She was the cool aunt who moved to California and was back visiting. 

(three generations of Bruch women on my grandmother's back stoop)

I spent a lot more time with my maternal grandparents, LaVera and Ewald Bruch.  My grandfather died when I was in elementary school but I do remember him spending a lot of time outside with me. He would introduce me to the trees and other plants in their peaceful yard. He also let me wash his hair and comb it which I thought was great fun. I thought he was a very kind grandpa who liked to hold my hand and swing me up and around. Later in life I learned he had been an abusive father to my mom and her two brothers. It's very difficult to mix my memories of him with hers. I spent a lot of time with the two of them and then later, after Ewald died I spent my summer vacation with my grandmother and she was my person. 

For years my mom and I struggled to have a positive relationship (my middle years were rough) and my grandmother was my go-to person. I'm happy that I can hear her voice in my head;  I hear her say my name and I see the smile on her face as she looks at me. I learned so much from her like her love of gardening and good food. She knew all about pesticides and if she brought produce home from the grocery store she would rinse everything in a vinegar mixture before eating it or cooking it. She lived through the depression so saved everything. My cousin Linda and I loved to play in her basement for hours. There were many treasures. 

We played countless games of Rack-O and Spite and Malice as I grew up. I felt blessed to have such a warm and tender-hearted grandmother in my life.  She listened to me and I felt like a whole person in her presence. That was golden. If I could bring her back for just one day I'd love to sit and talk, play a game of cards, and lay my head in her lap. Life is full of wonder and hardship. I think my grandparents symbolize that for me and I must be feeling a strong pull toward this right now.

(My grandpa Matz being silly with me)

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Best Books 2023 #2

I read quite a few great middle-grade fiction this year and before the month is over I wanted to share the best of those plus a handful of banned books from a variety of different lists that are worth reading. If you have young people to buy or recommend books these titles will be wonderful. 

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (2021) : This is my favorite historical fiction in 2023 because the story centers around close-knit siblings Anna, William, and Edmund after they are evacuated from London.  They remember their deceased mother and wish for a permanent family in this small countryside village. The three of them make the best of it even during their hardest times, remaining true to their hopes for the future. I recently ordered another Kate Albus historical fiction, Nothing Else But Miracles, which centers on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during WWII. 

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat (2022) : This is a Thai-inspired fantasy with amazing world-building as 12-year-old Sai apprentices to the last mapmaker and ends up on a high-seas adventure to chart unknown lands. This story captured my attention throughout Sai's journey. This author writes picture books, graphic novels, early chapter books as well as middle-grade novels. 

Starfish by Lisa Fipps (2021) : In this realistic novel-in-verse Ellie is tired of all the fat jokes about her weight. She loves to swim and free float in her backyard pool. She has lists of rules she is not supposed to do like no eating in public. With the support of her father, and a new neighbor Ellie starts to feel comfortable with herself. This is a fantastic debut!

The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye (2022) : This companion to The Turtle of Oman tells the story of Aref as he travels from Muscat, Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan to be with his parents. He misses his grandfather back home yet he is excited about his new life. I loved both these stories and offer them up to students who want to learn more about other cultures. 

The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart (2022) : This book defies labeling; it's part mystery, and realistic fiction, with a touch of magical realism. Ravani longs for neighbors and friends when one night as he looks out his bedroom window he sees a family move into the abandoned house across the street. Eventually, he is welcomed in by this mix of children and things begin to change for Ravani. I love Gemeinhart's entire catalog of books! 

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj (2022) : Minni and her family live in the poorest part of Mumbai where water from the pumps is often hard to get with long lines and shortages. When she takes over for her mother's cleaning job in a high-rise apartment she is astonished to see water running freely from the taps for this other family.  This is a very humbling book to show real economic disparity. 

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (2021) : Set during the Pandemic this novel-in-verse tells the story of Malian, a young Wabanaki girl as she quarantines at her grandparents' house on the reservation. She helps around the house, learns the old ways, and begins to communicate with an old stray dog. Bruchac does a wonderful job of weaving in the history of other pandemics the Native population has survived as well as government schools and reservation life. His WWII story, Code Talker, is one of my favorites. 

School Trip by Jerry Craft (2023) : This beautifully done graphic novel is filled with micro-aggressions and life lessons like its predecessors New Kid and Class Act.  The entire series should be required reading for humans. Riverdale Academy students Jordan, Liam, and Drew take a trip to Paris with their classmates. This would pair nicely with Dan Santat's new graphic novel A First Time for Everything. 

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (2003) : Maggie Rose and a friend go missing from their private Washington DC school and Alex Cross comes in to work the case. This is the first in the Alex Cross series and I cannot find the banned book list I originally saw it on. It's a gripping often gory tale. 

Dry by Neal Shusterman (2018) : California draught causes teenager Alyssa to make life-and-death decisions for her family.  This was intriguing and all too real.  

Gender Queer by  Maia Kobabe (2019) : Autobiographical graphic novel about the author's journey to understand more about their own gender identity. This was such a personally told story I was gripped with how difficult it is when young people don't feel comfortable in the prescribed norms we've conditioned ourselves to be. Writing/drawing this was a true act of bravery for Maia made even more difficult by hateful backlash. Listen to the NPR interview. 

Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman (#1-4) (2020) : Charlie and Nick fall in love in this sweet graphic novel. I can understand why this was made into a Netflix series because it is a heartwarming tale of friendship and love between two very different teenage boys. Highly recommend for all humans as well. 

As a librarian and compassionate human, I will continue to read more from any current banned books lists, and even though I've put myself on a book-buying ban I've used Libby and our wonderful public library.  Before the new year, I did buy copies of a few young-adult banned books to stick in my little free library.