Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Do Books Save LIves?

A lot of the authors I saw speak in the past week  have written books that readers have credited with saving their lives, either literally (helping them escape from dangerous situations or suicidal thoughts) or metaphorically yet still for realsies--showing them that they are not alone, that they have value, that they deserve love. And I get that. That moment when you find yourself on a page is powerful, and when that finding changes your trajectory, I’m sure you would remember that book and honor that author for the rest of your days.

There was a lot of talk at the conference about those books that save lives. But Matt de la Pena, who I’m pretty sure brings an astouding  insight to every conversation he’s ever in, kept pointing out that books don’t save lives. Readers save their own lives, using books as tools. In other words, he’s handing the power they already have back to the kids who are his readers.

A related beautiful thought that he shared was that readers can save authors. He talked about how his academic success made him feel like a sell-out, like he was no longer “Mexican enough.” Meeting kids who have recognized their mixed race, Chicano selves in his books brings him back into the fold. I managed to avoid full-on bawling throughout the conference, but this was one of the times when I was more than a little teary.

And then there was Jason Reynolds, who said that although we say, “There’s no such thing as a kid who doesn’t like reading; they just haven’t found their book yet,” maybe it’s more that the non-reader kid hasn’t found their person who is going to hand them that book.

It all comes back to relationship. Book, reader. Teacher, student. Author, reader. Student, teacher. Book, teacher, author, student. Matt also reminded us that what we do in the classroom, bringing together a student and a book, might not have immediate effect. But years later, they might come back to that thought, that book, that moment when they felt seen.

I’m coming home determined to see my students, and to let them know that I value them. To name the qualities I see that they may not even consider. To not make them read between the lines in order to figure out that I see them as capable, as delightful, as enough.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Books and Authors at NCTE2017

15 graphic novels (mostly nonfiction)
3 picture books
6 gifts (kids, sister, colleagues)
13 books signed to my students
3 books signed to me
7 books that duplicate books I have so we can do partner or book club reading
16 middle grade novels
29 young adult novels
2 books in Spanish

I feel like a kid late on Halloween evening, sorting out my candy. Here are the ones I'm most excited to read.

Authors I blurted ridiculous things at: Eric Gansworth, Renee Watson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Laini Taylor, Maria Padian, Patrick Ness, Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, Megan Whalen Turner, A. S. King, Matt de la Pena, Ellen Hopkins, Dusti Bowling, and teacher writers Robert Probst, Pernille Ripp, Penny Kittle, and Donalyn Miller

Authors I was chill with: Aaron Levy, Brandon Kiely, Daniel Jose Older, Andrew Smith, Neal Shusterman, Adam Rex, N. H. Senzai, Karen Romano Young. (You will notice this is a much smaller list.)

Authors I creepily took pictures of despite not being in their signing line for various reasons: Adam Silvera, Julie Murphy, Angie Thomas

Donalyn Miller, who knew me by name. Okay, so I was wearing a nametag. I still believe she recognized me.

Laini Taylor, who I always keep an eye out for in Portland. Which isn't weird, unless you tell her that while she's signing your book. In which case, it turns out, it's a little weird. Hey look, we coordinated our outfits! 'Cause we Portlanders are like that.

Megan Whalen Turner. At least I chose not to tell her that I'd written an entire blog post about her last summer, referring to her as "Margaret" about half of the time.

Total stalker photo of Angie Thomas.  I apologize, Angie! 

Aaaand total stalker shot of Adam Silvera. Who is very tall, and, according to a guy in line behind me later in the day, extremely charming.

I saw Eric Gansworth's name on a list of "diverse authors" a few weeks ago, read If I Ever Get Out Of Here last week, met him and got his new book signed this morning, and won $20 from Powell's with my review of the earlier book this afternoon. Native American from New York/Ontario area. 

Penny Kittle, writer of Book Love, founder of the BookLove foundation, granter of my 500 book classroom library start, encourager of the grant winners who gathered to share our work, and Big Name that drew over 80 people to come see us on a Sunday morning, when most activities have wound down. Am i gushing?  I think I'm gushing.

Meg Medina, who said, "You want me to be goofy?" Yes, please!

I promise I will write more about Jason Reynolds. I got to hear him twice. One of the best speakers I've ever been privileged to listen to.

Ellen Hopkins. Gah. Her next book is going to be about gun violence, and the verse part will be from the point of view of Violence, interspersed with prose chapters written in second person from six characters who might be pushed to pick up a gun. She believes in growing as an author!

Adam Rex drew an adorable orange on every damn book he signed. The man is a hero.

Laurie Halse Anderson and Karen Romano Young at a fairly swanky evening event we got invited to.

Posing with Linda Mullaly Hunt (Fish in a Tree), Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (The War that Saved My Life) and Matt de la Pena (everything good) after their panel with Kat Yeh about reaching reluctant readers. I'll write more about that one too. I can't decide if their brains or their souls are more beautiful.

Someone randomly handed me a ticket to the secondary luncheon. I figured free food, and I think I've heard good things about this Daniel Jose Older guy, so sure I'll go! Remember what I said about Jason Reynolds being the best speaker I've ever heard? I forgot that I've also heard Older speak. WOW.

Benjamin Alire Saenz. I asked him if he knows the guy who works in the next room over from me. He does. It was kind of a silly question.

I've mentioned this guy, right? And Julie Murphy is adorable and hilarious and kept calling herself out for being flustered even though she was super awesome. 

I wish Matt de la Pena was, like, my neighbor or my nephew or something. It's not THAT kind of crush, but I do really wish he was someone I could just call up and chat with. Super kind, super insightful, super genuine human being. 

Huge line today to see Patrick Ness. I met him two years ago in Minneapolis, and I pretty much WAS the line that day. He'd had time to chat with me and sign each book in the Chaos Walking series individually and with personalization. I mentioned that, and he said, 'Hey, I thought you looked familiar! No, really!" We have that Northwest connection, so I choose to believe him. I have NOT heard him speak, but I've read his books and seen his tweets and good works, and he's another one I just want to hang out with all the time. 

Though honestly? I think being pals with Patrick and Matt and Jason and Laurie and Amy and Meg and Adam and Julie and Angie and Renee and so on and so forth would probably force me to really look critically at my life and my work and my privilege and my actions. These are not people who skim along the surface of things, ever.

Friday, November 17, 2017

I Met Jason Reynolds. That Is All.

Actually, it's not all. But I am beat, so I will fill you in later on how damn wise he is.

Monday, November 13, 2017

TTT: Books To Share With My Kids

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read

Well, I certainly hope I don't have any future children. I've got my hands full with the tween and teen I already have.

So let me tell you about some books I think of when I think of my kids. (No, not Children of the Corn).

The first book I read to my kids was Good night, I Love You. Not only did it teach a basic bedtime routine, the pictures made the meaning clear while they were still learning English, and "I love you, goodnight" is definitely a warm and fuzzy phrase to learn.

The next book I remember making a big impression was Blueberries for Sal. I'm sure I've told this story here before, but the kids had been with us maybe 6 weeks and we were on a trip to the mountains. Someone was counting out something into a container (details are fuzzy--beads in a cup? cherries in a bowl?) and my son said, "Plink, plank, plunk!" His first literary allusion! *wipes tear*

The Harry Potter series started being published when I was about 30, so it's definitely something I experienced only as an adult.  I was a fan--more so than the nieces and nephews who first alerted me to its existence--but there is nothing like reading these books with kids. I read the first book to both kids at their request, and it was a little hard for them to follow, so we watched the movie and tried again, and they did great. Then I started buying the illustrated versions for my daughter as Christmas presents, and we've spent the last two winters reading them aloud. She knows she'll get the third one this year, and it already looking forward to it.

My son still struggles with reading a lot, but he loves being read to, and gets quite involved in the stories. I am so grateful to the teachers that have read him The BFG, Touching Spirit Bear, and The Lightning Thief. He came home talking about each of them in turn--this from a kid who usually has nothing to say about school events, especially of the academic variety.  (Side note: I didn't really like Riordan when I first tried him ten years ago. Then I read him to my kids, and found the humor and subtle education delightful.)

My daughter loves recommending books to me, starting in kindergarten when she came home from school and asked to be taken to the library to look for more Mo Willems books.  "You mean Maurice Williams?" I asked, bewildered.  No, she meant Mo Willems, and what a great time we had with every single Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie and Knuffle Bunny story.  Lately she's gotten me to read her favorite book, Chomp, and then after I suggested she listen to Woof, she got me to read it. Now I'm supposed to read Arf too, so we can read Bow-Wow together.  She's also encouraging me to read Posted, which her 5th grade teacher read to the class. One of my usually disengaged 8th grade boys also read and like that one, so I figure I'd better read it pretty darn soon

I could never get my kids into the Little House books or the Chronicles of Narnia, but I was pleasantly surprised that when I book-talked The Good Master to my daughter, she asked me to read it to her. I hope that soon we can read the even better The Singing Tree together too.

There is so much good YA being published today that they will be ready for in a couple of years. I hope that when they are teens they read Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Grey. There's not a lot written about their homeland of Lithuania, so I'm glad that Ruta Sepetys is a fantastic writer at least.  I think my daughter will like Becky Albertalli, Angie Thomas, and Jason Reynolds, although Jeff Zentner and Adam Silvera might be too sad for her--she has a tender little heart. I'm wondering if my son will ever be confident enough to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or We Were Here--there's always audiobooks if the reading part is too daunting. They might be more interested in fantasy and sci fi than many of my students are, given how much of it I read and how imaginative they are. I can see my girl reading Graceling and Girl of Fire and Thorns, and I can see my son reading Ender's Game


I also hope they continue to find books they love and recommend to me.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Six Degree of Separation: Less Than Zero

I've seen this on Wilde on My Side, and she pointed me to Books Are My Favorite and Best as the originator.  Basically, everyone starts with the same title each month, and then using your own personal trains of thought, lead your readers through six books, one to the next to the next.  It could be authors, covers, time of life when you read the book, or any other connection that comes up in your mind.

We start this month's journey with Less Than Zero, which I actually read as a teenager in the 1980s. (I also read Bret Ellis's American Psycho  because apparently teen me was a glutton for punishment.  There's no way I'd plow through two books with unlikable narrators and a cynical view of life now.  So that's not my next pick!)

Instead, I'm taking the Zero over to Holes, the beloved MG novel by Louis Sachar, starring the palindromic Stanley Yelnats and his underrated fellow camper, Zero.

I read Holes to my classes years ago. Around the same time, I also read Ruth White's  Belle Prater's Boy to one class. Turned out to be a weird choice for my students, and I learned my lesson that just because I love a book doesn't mean it's going to be a good fit for my students.

Belle Prater's Boy is set in 1920s Appalachia. It's actually kind of surprising how many books I've read with that setting. For a few years in my late teens, my favorite book was A Vein of Riches, written by John Knowles of A Separate Peace fame. It details coal mining and the push for unions in that time and place. It also is a love story, in which a young man falls in love with his wealthy father's kept woman.

Something about that forbidden love, plus the role trains play in the book, reminds me of John Irving's modern classic, A Prayer for Owen Meany, in which the narrator's mother gets pregnant with him by a man she claims to have met on a train.

At the climax of A Prayer for Owen Meany, the narrator and the eponymous character save a group of Vietnamese children who were airlifted out of Saigon. This brings me to the only 21st century entry on today's list, Thanhhai Lai's Inside Out and Back Again, a novel in verse narrated by a girl who immigrates to Alabama from Vietnam in the early 1970s.


From one of the most distasteful books I've read to one that is decidedly more optimistic about the human condition. Other than Holes, we stayed pretty far east for the whole time.

Feel free to play along! Next month's starting title is It. Creepy!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

October in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 14
Best(s):  Best novel in verse: Long Way Down, Best Graphic Novel: Anne of Green Gables, Best Re-read: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Best Middle Grade: Nine, Ten: a September 11 Story
Mt. TBR progress: 4 more, up to 54 this year.

Bookish Events and Happenings

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, of course! 

On the Blog

Finally back to my normal with 15 posts in October. Read-a-thon helped with that, but I also started to get my feet under me enough at school to put aside time for blogging.  I participated in four Top Ten Tuesdays and a Sunday Post as well as a slightly overdue Mt. TBR Check-in. I made fun of myself for packing a half dozen books but no deodorant or phone charger when the kids and I went to the beach for a weekend.  I wrote a post that's been on my mind for awhile about the whitewashing of covers, which is to say, putting illustrations of white people on the covers of books that feature people of color. Plus a bunch of read-a-thon nonsense and a tag or two. It was fun. 


Oof. One of my kids is really struggling right now, and it's affecting pretty much everything. Still, I am a relentless optimist, which means I can usually find stuff to be happy about. We had an unusually sunny and dry October, the leaves are lovely, and I finally got to start reading Refugee with my classes.  

 This guy keeps stopping by and hanging out on the chair.

This just makes me laugh. I was taking pictures of book covers in Barnes and Noble so I could ask my students what I should buy next for the classroom and had a classic front-camera moment. So pretty! Definitely not the most flattering angle.

After nearly sixteen years of marriage, my husband and I have started sitting down to plan meals each week, then he does the grocery shopping and quite a bit of the cooking, and it has really been a terrific change. He made fish tacos the other night that were delicious.

This was also the first time in 20 years of middle school teaching we were allowed to dress up at school, and it went really well.  The concern has always been that the girls will all dress as slutty whatevers and the boys will all dress as serial killers. But they didn't. I was Professor McGonnogall, and the teacher next door was a cow. With an udder.  Sadly, I didn't get pictures of either of us. I didn't even get pictures of my kids, which I'm pretty sure means I'm about to be kicked off Facebook.

I'm am so excited about heading to NCTE in two weeks. After I went through each of the 42 options for each of the 15 sessions (those numbers sound like hyperbole, but are actually accurate) and narrowed it down to my top one (or two--it was hard!) choices, these are the authors I'll see presenting as part of various panels:
  • Jason Reynolds
  • Matt de la Peña
  • Meg Medina
  • Julie Murphy
  • Chris Crutcher
  • Ellen Hopkins
  • Katherine Applegate
  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • Dan Gemeinhart
  • A. S. King
  • Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Alan Sitomer
  • M. T. Anderson
  • Angie Thomas
plus every single one of my auto-buy teacher authors.  ALL OF THEM. 

I've also kind of taken over the group that I'm presenting with.  None of us know each other, and we don't have any sort of structure or organization.  It was kind of driving me nuts. So I decided to get us pulled together. It is kind of interesting, because I'm remembering that I used to be more take-charge in a professional setting, but in my "new" job (this is my tenth year) I've never really felt comfortable or listened to, so I've kind of gotten into the habit of being passive and just doing my own thing. This is making me think about what I can do differently going forward.  

All in all, October was a good month, but challenging.  I suspect I will feel the same about November.  I hope it treats all of you well. 

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!