Friday, January 27, 2017

foster in them a love of reading

Every year at the beginning of February the Learning Lab hosts a Lunch For Literacy.  It is one of my favorite fund raising events. And, every year since I have been attending, I donate an auction basket of books aimed at Middle Grade readers. I always have a great time putting the basket together: considering different reading levels, story lines, and themes. I have this ideal dream scenario where a Middle Grade reader will get my basket of books and say, "I never considered myself a reader until I read these books. Reading is so much fun!" (a girl can dream).

I am currently reading, My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it has inspired my choices for this year's book basket. RBG is perhaps an unlikely rock star as an 83 year-old US Supreme Court Justice; but if you have a child and you want them to grow up to be a confident trail-blazer, you need look no further than Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a role model. In her book, My Own Words, RBG suggests that if parents want their children to mature into confident, fierce, high-achieving citizens, they should foster in them a love of reading. 

So, here's my list of books for this year's basket. I hope they inspire bravery, confidence, clever rebellion, smart resistance, empathy, independence, grit, innovation, and most importantly a love of reading.

  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
  • Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley
  • The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
  • Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
  • Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
  • Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
  • March: book one, two, and three by John Lewis
  • Eleven by Tom Rogers
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
  • Drowned City by Don Brown
  • PAX by Sara Pennypacker
  • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Saturday, January 7, 2017

you must first invent the universe

Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe... 
To make a thing as simple as an apple pie, you have to create the whole wide world.

We have had three snow days in a row this week. Luckily I had the book The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon in my to-be-read pile. It is wonderful and beautiful and remarkable. Get this book for every teenager you know. Get this book for every hopeless romantic and lover of universal interconnections.

The Sun Is Also A Star is humorous and light while taking on the heavy subjects of race, immigration, religion, bullying, meaning, the universe, and love.

National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for? 
Nicola Yoon: I wrote this book for anyone who's ever desperately searched for meaning. For everyone who asks the big questions. For all the dreamers and questioners.

From the National Book Foundation:
The Sun Is Also a Star is a love story between two teens passing through the universe, floating on their own stars, and destined for their futures. It is also a love letter to the universe and all the stardust particles that make up wishes and dreams. I read this book with a notepad and highlighter because it was also a life manual that answers the question: how did this—a chance encounter or an unfulfilled dream—come to pass? Nicola Yoon, who starts the novel with a Carl Sagan anecdote about apple pie and starting from scratch, exquisitely demonstrates how we all play a role in this endless love affair between art and science. A Jamaican immigrant girl and a Korean-American boy are connected in the tiniest of ways—like the atoms and neutrons in Sagan’s apple pie. The ultimate result is a big bang of a love story that expands and contracts in a mere twelve hours. The Sun Is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel, and it will certainly pull at readers’ heartstring much like the omnipotent hands of the all-knowing universe. 

My favorite parts:

“I think all the good parts of us are connected on some level. The part that shares the last double chocolate chip cookie or donates to charity or gives a dollar to a street musician or becomes a candy striper or cries at Apple commercials or says I love you or I forgive you. I think that's God. God is the connection of the very best parts of us.”  

“There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.” 
“When Natasha thinks about love, this is what she thinks: nothing lasts forever. Like hydrogen-7 or lithium-5 or boron-7, love has an infinitesimally small half-life that decays to nothing. And when its gone, its like it was never there at all.”  

“We have big, beautiful brains. We invent things that fly. Fly. We write poetry. You probably hate poetry, but it’s hard to argue with ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate’ in terms of sheer beauty. We are capable of big lives. A big history. Why settle? Why choose the practical thing, the mundane thing? We are born to dream and make the things we dream about.” 
“I am really not a girl to fall in love with. For one thing, I don’t like temporary, nonprovable things, and romantic love is both temporary and non-provable.” 
“People spend their whole lives looking for love. Poems and songs and entire novels are written about it. But how can you trust something that can end as suddenly as it begins?” 

Monday, January 2, 2017

ain't nobody that fast

For New Years, I read Ghost by Jason Reynolds. 
Middle grade readers will love this book!

Jason Reynolds: I wrote Ghost for all the young people who feel like they're suffocating, who feel like they're gasping for breath, exhausted from running for their lives, and sometimes FROM their lives. It's for both the traumatized and the triumphant. 

From GoodReads:
Ghost is a deeply moving book with several important messages for young readers. 
Castle Crenshaw goes by the name Ghost, because he's a wicked fast runner. The first time he ran -- truly ran -- he was running for his life: running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do.
Now that he's older, Ghost puts his natural talent to work by running track. But he's not just running toward the finish line, he's running away from his past and the anger he's got buried inside. 
"Trouble is, you can't run away from yourself." Coach snatched the towel from his shoulder, folded into a perfect square, and set it in the space between us. "Unfortunately," he said, "ain't nobody that fast." 
Ghost must come to terms with what he's running from and decide where he's running to: "you can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be." 
Jason Reynolds always manages to squeeze numerous topics into his books without making the narrative feel over crowded. Ghost touches on thievery, drug abuse, gun violence, bullying, honesty, family dynamics, friendship, and finding healthy ways to channel anger and hurt into positive action.

 Be sure to listen to TheYarn episode where Colby Sharp interviews Jason Reynolds. Be sure to listen all the way through to the last question..."what can people like me do?" (thank you, colby sharp, for asking the question).

I love Jason Reynolds, his books, and his ability to be a super cool nerd.

Monday, October 17, 2016

never truly gone

Over the weekend I read Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. My kids absolutely love anything by Raina Telgemeier, but I knew this particular book came with some controversy. Ghosts uses the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration as a way for two sisters to explore their Mexican heritage and as a way to find solace in the younger sister's diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. It is a beautiful story of sisters and family.

The watered down version of the Day of the Dead used in the graphic novel, Ghosts, is there as an attempt to understand death, to honor the memory of ancestors, and to celebrate death the way we celebrate life... that when someone we love dies, they are not forgotten.

If Ghosts has done anything, it has made us as readers question how we use and absorb other cultures' celebrations (sometimes without cultural sensitivity) to tell our own stories. And I believe, when you know better you do better.

With the coming of Halloween, there will inevitably be some party goers who wear makeup and face paint to look like sugar skulls. Sugar skulls represent a departed spirit. Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of the dead to help support their spiritual journey. Families of the departed clean and decorate graves with ofrendas (altars). Perhaps this fall, we can honor Dia de los Muertos more authentically and not attempt to bend it to our idea of Halloween.

Young readers will love Ghosts. And hopefully it will start a conversation in your home about honoring those who have passed and knowing that when each of us does die, we are never truly gone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Some Writer!

"I wonder what I am going to be when I grow up?"

This week I read Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet. It's the new and wonderful, illustrated biography of E.B. White. Young readers and adults will absolutely love this book; it is a work of art. 

E.B. White was a compassionate person and an amazing writer. Where children have found a hero in the fictional Wilbur, so will they aspire to the originality of E.B. "Andy" White.

"I have discovered... that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart... was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace." - E.B. White

Melissa Sweet provides a beautiful glimpse into the life of a beloved author. Who doesn't remember reading the final chapter of Charlotte's Web, Last Day? I still can not get through this paragraph without tears:

"Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Young readers and writers will benefit from the handwritten manuscript pages included in this biography. The importance of iteration and editing, of word choice and simplicity is ideal.

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

"There you have a short, valuable essay on the nature and beauty of brevity - sixty-three words that could change the world"   - from The Elements of Style 1959

This book could almost be called the perfect biography, as it encourages and entices the reader to dig around for more. If you haven't read Charlotte's Web or Stewart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan, you will be compelled to. If you have, a re-read feels in order. The Letters of E.B. White, Elements of Style fourth edition, Essays of E.B. White, In the Words of E.B. White, and E.B. White on Dogs will all find a place onto your to-be-read pile of books.

Get this book for every young reader you know this holiday season. It is the perfect gift for every E.B. White fan you know... or perhaps it is the perfect gift to give to make E.B. White fans of your dearest friends.
"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing."

"All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around." - E.B. White

Sunday, August 7, 2016

you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is a must read for teens and lovers of young adult literature. Told in alternating perspectives of the three main characters, this book is sure to become a life long favorite to be read and reread.

The three main characters live in Forrestville, Tennessee - a town named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Dill Early Jr. is a talented song writer. His father is a convicted criminal and his mother blames Dill for his father's imprisonment. Lydia Blankenship is an internet star who runs a famous fashion blog and dreams of leaving Forrestville for New York City. Travis Bohannon is a gentle giant who is obsessed with the fantasy series, Bloodfall, where he escapes regularly. Travis is an odd duck with a sad story of his own.

The Serpent King is Jeff Zentner's debut novel. He has been a guitarist and song writer, and his poetic style comes through in this beautifully written story.
About The Serpent King, Jeff says, "I wanted to write about young people who struggle to lead lives of dignity and find beauty in a forgotten, unglamorous place. Who wonder what becomes of dreams once they cross the county line. This book is my love letter to those young people and anyone who has ever felt like them, no matter how or where they grew up."

 My favorite bits from Dill's chapters:

And worse, somewhere, circling and flitting around that dread, was another awful feeling: nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.
 "I read somewhere that a lot of the stars we see don't exist anymore. They've already died and it's taken millions of years for their light to reach Earth," Dill said.
"That wouldn't be a bad way to die," Lydia said. "Giving off light for millions of years after you're gone."
"I think lives are more than the sum of their parts," Lydia said. "I don't think it's fair to measure them in accomplishments."
"Nothing stops when we're gone," Lydia said. "The seasons don't stop. This river doesn't stop. Vultures will keep flying in circles. The lives of the people we love won't stop. Time keeps unspooling. Stories keep getting written." 
And if you are going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.

My favorite bits from Lydia's chapters:

"We should do things we're afraid of. It makes it easier every time we do it."
"I'm tired of many things," Mr. Burson said, fighting for composure. They turned. "I'm tired of watching children perish. I'm tired of watching the world grind up gentle people. I'm tired of out living those I shouldn't be outliving. I've made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery. I needed to say that out loud to somebody other than my cats. Please take care of yourselves, my young friends." 

My favorite bit fromTravis's chapters:

"Writing is something you can learn only by doing. To become a writer, you need an imagination, which you clearly have. You need to read books, which you clearly do. And you need to write, which you don't yet do, but should."
And even though this comes in a Dill chapter, it belongs to Travis:

Rest, O Knight, proud in victory, proud in death.Let your name evermore be a light to those who loved you.Let white flowers grow upon this place that you rest.Yours was a life well lived, and now you dine in the halls of the Elders at their eternal feast. 

And, finally, my favorite bit from the author's website: 

"What’s funny is that I never set out to write a YA novel. What I really wanted to do was to write for young adults. And it happens that the best way to do that is by writing a YA novel. So that’s what I did. I think that’s such an amazing period of life, where you’re basically as intelligent as an adult, but the world and experience haven’t lost their newness. I remember the immediacy of feeling and wonder that accompanied those years of my life. There’s a magic there. I also love the way that young adults experience art and cling to the pieces of art that they love. I wanted to create something that would (hopefully) be loved and clung to."

Get this book for every teen you know! They will love and cling to it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

If you know someone (or if, like me, you are someone) who loves Hamilton: The Original Cast Recording...

be sure to share this list of all things Hamilton:

Hamilton The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. This is the behind the scenes look at the creation and production of the hip-hop musical with footnotes by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Also, there's a song in the play that's not on the cast album: Tomorrow There'll Be More Of Us.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. This is the book that Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up on his way to vacation in Mexico. It's the 800-page biography that inspired Hamilton the musical. 

Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz. This ten-dollar, founding father biography is the best read for middle grade scholars. "Don't be shocked when your history books mention me. I will lay down my life if it sets us free." This 100-page biography might satisfy most young Hamilton fans; but, there may be some who choose to "rise up" and listen to Chernow's audio book.

The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr by Judith St. George. This middle grade book introduces A.Ham and A. Burr: both were orphans, both were brilliant students, both studied law, both were war heroes, and both were politicians. Told in alternating chapters, this book catalogs the similarities and differences (Wait For It) of these two founding fathers who played major roles in the formation of the United States. 
Death doesn't discriminate/ between the sinners and the saints,/ it takes and it takes and it takes./ History obliterates./ In every picture it paints,/ It paints me and all my mistakes./ When Alexander aimed at the sky,/ He may have been the first one to die,/ But I'm the one who paid for it./ I survived but I paid for it./ Now I'm the villain in your history./ I was too young and blind to see./ I should've known./ I should've known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me./ The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.

The Most Famous Duel in American History: Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown. This illustrated middle grade book looks at the complicated relationship between Aaron and Alexander and gives a more sympathetic spin where Burr is concerned. "Even though we started at the very same time, Alexander Hamilton began to climb." (Non-Stop)

And for those who have fallen head over heals for Lin-Manuel Miranda, be sure to listen to the audio book of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (read by Lin-Manuel Miranda)
"I sure as hell don't want to study Alexander Hamilton." - Lin-Manuel Miranda (Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe)

And for fans of the Tony Awards, be sure to watch the cast of Hamilton perform Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) and Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony acceptance speech for Best Score.

And, for learners and teachers: The New York Times The Learning Network's ideas for Learning with Hamilton. It is an amazing resource! Also check out School Library Journal's page of Teaching with Hamilton.

Finally, for fans of The White House performances of Hamilton: The 2009 Hamilton Rap, cast performance of Alexander Hamilton, cast performance of My Shot, and the #Ham4Ham West Wing Cabinet Battle.