Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 24
Best(s): A Conjuring of Light, Three Dark Crowns, Refugee, This Side of Home, Tales from Outer Suburbia, My Life in Dog Years.
Mt. TBR progress: 7 books.  I'm up to 46 for the year, and worry that I'm not going to make my 100 book goal.

Bookish Events and Happenings

I brought my rocking chair into my classroom, so my porch reading nook is now sadly lacking in a place to sit.  

I continue to live in awe of authors.  Kate Messner has organized a "KidLit Cares" campaign in which dozens and dozens of authors, illustrators, and editors are offering prizes to be auctioned off, with all money raised going to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey.  Check it out!

On the Blog

I disappeared.  I only posted 7 times this month, which is my lowest ever.  Gearing up for school, trying to get a lot of reading done, and having a family life did not leave me much time.  The state of the world did not leave me very motivated either.  It just seems awkward to fangirl about books when the world is burning, or drowning--whichever is on the agenda this week. I did write a response to This Side of Home, a book that addresses gentrification in the neighborhood my dad grew up in, and then I wrote another post about my dad and race and my city, because there's a lot to think about right now.

I also wrote a post about my family's stuffed reindeer, Spot.


As I said, the news today lurches from disaster to disaster, and I've been preoccupied all month.  Life goes on, especially for those of us with all sorts of unearned privilege, so I also baked my husband a birthday cake, went to the beach overnight with some dear friends I used to work with, and took the kids swimming.  I hosted family gatherings for both sides of our family, cleverly scheduled close enough together that we only had to do the full-on cleaning of the house once.  My daughter and I got her room painted.  I went back to school for inservice, and the first kids started up today.

I am tired.  But cheerful.  But mostly tired.  Let's see what September brings.  

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!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dad: Not a Book Post

I keep thinking about my dad.

He would be 85 now, and he would be pissed, but not surprised.  (He would also not like me using the word "pissed," but that's a story for another day.)

Sure, there may have been some naivete in his younger days.  When he thought that the reason the black kids entered and left his high school through the back door was because it was closer to their homes.  When he thought that hiring a black woman to help out with infant me when my mom had a heart attack would teach my sisters and I to not be prejudiced.

(News flash: the black kids were expected to use the back door, even if there was no actual rule.  Hiring a black home nurse is a great way to teach kids that black people are there to serve you.  He worked out both of those things after the fact, and was open about how clueless he'd been.)

He was a news photographer, so he saw more of Portland than the lily-white neighborhood I grew up in.  He knew the stories behind the stories, what was reported and what was accepted.

He's the one who told me about the incarceration of the Japanese Americans during WWII.  He also told me that when the residents of Hood River realized that one of the names on their monument to fallen soldiers was Japanese, not Finnish (all those vowels), they chiseled it back off.

He's the one who told us about the Vanport Flood, which was a Katrina-level fuck-up and abandonment of Portland's African American neighborhoods, not an unfortunate act of God.

He's the one who told me about Oregon's shameful sunset laws, ban on black settlers, and  ongoing KKK presence.  He told me about how the local Native tribes were wiped out with smallpox blankets.  He loved this state and instilled a deep sense of place in all of us, but he didn't whitewash our history.  Nor did he deny the racism that still infects us.

I don't know if he knew the phrase "driving while black" or would have immediately known what black people mean by "the talk" they give their children.  But I do know how pissed off he was when his friend Nic was pulled over on our street when coming over for dinner. We'd lived on that street a good 25 years by then, and none of us had ever been pulled over.  None of the neighbors, none of the other guests and visitors.  But Nic, a news photographer just like my dad, driving a family car just like my dad, was pulled over, because he was a black man driving down a residential street in SW Portland.  My dad didn't question for an instant that this was racism, pure and simple.  And he made sure his family knew that this went on all the time, all over town.  He was completely unsurprised when I moved to Canby and pointed out how many of the traffic stops reported in the local daily were for Latinos, and for stupid things like a missing tail light or expired tags--again, things I have yet to be pulled over for.  "That's how they do it," he grumbled.  "Just look for any reason to hassle brown people."

I should note here that both his best friend and his brother-in-law were cops.

Another good friend, Max, is Hispanic.  His last name is Gutierrez, his ancestors immigrated from Spain to the US, and he doesn't speak a lick of Spanish.  They were covering a mine disaster in Idaho in the 1960s when the locals called Max a "Jap" and told him to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in the river. The National Guard suggested he follow their advice.  My dad the photographer wrote an article exposing the incident and got his editor to publish it.  This is what's known as "calling other white people out" and he was not afraid to do it.

By the time Obama was elected president, my dad was wheelchair bound and foggy most of the time.  He took pictures of the televised inauguration, the closest he could come to covering this story.  "You know, Daddy," I told him, "There are people who say this means racism is over."

He stared at me in disbelief, then sputtered, "They think just because it's not a problem for THEM, it's not a problem!"

Nobody needed to tell my dad about white privilege. He worked that out a long time ago.

So I think of him a lot these days.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

This Side of Home: Gentrification, Wokeness, and Hometown Literature


Reading a book set in your hometown is probably not that unusual if you live in New York, London, or even LA.  But fewer books are set in Portland, so I was excited to pick up This Side of Home, by   Watson.  Even more enticing, Watson is a person of color, and her book addresses issues around gentrification in NE Portland.

My dad grew up in that neighborhood after WWII, when it was mostly working class white, although his high school was the most racially diverse in town at that time.  White flight started in the sixties and by the time I was visiting my grandparents in the seventies, they were one of the only white families left on the block.  Bars went up over windows and doors, although, my mom grumbled, that probably said more about the prejudices of the neighborhood's original homeowners than the habits of the newcomers.  When we sold my grandparents' house after they died, we were horrified by the clause on the original deed that stated it could not be sold to "Negros or Jews," glad that the law now invalidated it.  Besides the moral implications, it would have been hard to find a white buyer in 1980.

My dad's old high school became a magnet school for dance, a program that was hugely successful in the eighties, when I was in high school, although the "regular" part of the high school, for the neighborhood kids, started to struggle.

The nineties brought gangs to Portland in full force.  Jefferson High lost funding for their dance program, and quickly gained a reputation as the lowest scoring school in town.  The school was reconstituted (every single staff member fired, then a new staff hired) at least once.  Leaders with great visions for reform were hired, only to leave again a year or two later.

In this century, gentrification has spread across the east side.  The last time I visited the house my dad grew up in, on my way to a pre-wedding yoga class in the bride's friend's yard, every single house on the block had gardens in bloom and quaintly painted porches.  Portland's hipster reputation stems from these neighborhoods, with their street fairs, green fennel and maple ice cream, and kilt-wearing, bagpipe playing unicyclists in Darth Vader masks. (Not even kidding--google it.)  Whatever the opposite of white flight is, that's what's going on.  "I love this part of town because it's so diverse!" we exclaim, as if we don't notice that our black neighbors have been relocated by rising housing costs.

This is the neighborhood Nikki and Maya live in.  Richmond High is Jefferson High.  Jackson Avenue is Mississippi Avenue.  The chi-chi ice cream place with lines around the block is Salt & Straw.  And if it's a bit jarring to hear the girls refer to "Oregon Museum of Science and Industry" instead of OMSI or "Portland Community College" instead of PCC, well, that's the price you pay for living in a town that is off-the-beaten-path enough that we can't assume others know our acronyms.

Reading this book is getting me to think hard about the We Need Diverse Books movement, and my own commitment to reading more widely.  I can read about prejudice in other times and be outraged.  I can read about injustice in other parts of the world and be heart-broken and indignant.  I roll my eyes at white fragility and explain earnestly that racism = prejudice plus power, so reverse racism is a nonsensical concept.

But when I read about a complex, racially charged issue in a place I have strong connections too, all of a sudden I'm conflicted.  I'm all "Yes, but..." and "On the other hand..."

THIS.  This is we we NEED diverse books.  It's easy to be anti-racist and pro social justice when the issues don't affect you directly.  No DAPL!  Black Lives Matter!  Those are easy.  There is no benefit to me, nor am I personally implicated in putting in a pipeline or murdering children of color, so it's simple for me to pick the right side in those arguments.  But pointing out the downside of gentrification of the part of town with all the cool old houses?  That's stepping on my toes.

Which is waking me up.  "Woke" is a word that's been tossed around a lot lately, but I didn't fully realize how appropriate it is until I felt myself coming awake to an issue right here in my world.

Change is inevitable and not inherently evil. The neighborhood whose passing Maya mourns replaced the one my dad grew up in, which replaced another era's culture as well.  But who benefits, and who loses?  In every iteration, it seems that the white Portlanders benefit while the black Portlanders get screwed.  In the same way we kept pushing the native Americans onto crappier and crappier pieces of land, reneging on promises and treaties to satisfy our own lust for property, we do the same in the neighborhoods of our cities.  Sure, in our more "enlightened" era, black folks who make good money and assimilate into white culture are welcome to stick around the gentrified neighborhood--but why are poor whites more welcome than poor blacks?  Why are they expected to act like us but never the other way around?

Watson brings up all of this and more in just the first 1/3 of the book, all I've read so far.  By positioning twins Nikki and Maya on opposing sides of the debate, she keeps the issues complex and--sorry but it has to be said--less black and white, more shades of grey.  The more proudly African American Maya seems to be falling for the nice white boy whose family moves into the house that was gentrified out from under her best friend.  I wonder if Nikki, with her straight hair and fondness for fro-yo, is going to renege on their lifelong plan of attending a historically black college.

It's challenging and rewarding to read a book in which the setting is so familiar, but the point of view is so different.  I hope Watson continues to write and write and write about our city, which has always been home to a wider range of people than Henry, Ramona, and Beezus.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Quiz

My favorite daughter* learned how to make a Google Form tonight and is hoping we can find people who are willing to take her survey.  It would mean a lot to her to get some actual answers to analyze, and we will certainly share the results with you!

What are your favorite movies? (And can you possibly figure out what HER favorite movie is?)

*aka my only daughter, but that's okay

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Haul: Classroom Library

I feel like I reined in my book buying this summer.

But when I started scanning new books into my classroom library, I realized I was fooling myself.

Here are the ones I just couldn't resist.

Two books by the inimitable Patricia Polacco: Mr Lincoln's Way and The Keeping Quilt
The double-twist humor of A Hungry Lion (Or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals)
The mildly surreal School's First Day of School
The native voice of Mama Do You Love Me?

A hybrid novel/graphic novel that looks spooky-good, The First Escape
A light MG graphic novel, Muddy Max.
The looks-like-fun Trouble is a Friend of Mine
The documentary novel Loving Vs. Virginia

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock for all my 13 Reasons Why obsessed kids, in hopes that Matthew Quick does a better job at portraying teen suicidal impulses
The first Lumberjanes because my own kids love the series, so hopefully my students will too.
Posted, because what says middle school more than a book that starts with the banning of cell phones and students' plans to work around that?
Ashes to Ashes because I just now realized it's book 3 in a series.  Sigh.

A second copy of Ball Don't Lie, because my classroom can never have too much Matt de la Peña.
Thrilled to find a used (thus cheaper) copy of The Upside of Unrequited, which I loved.
Jefferson's Sons is about his kids who were his slaves, which is kind of an important thing to keep in mind when learning US history. Really liked the author's other book I've read too.
Hoping that a first person warning will be heeded by my students in our town full of meth addicts, I got Tweak, even though it has crappy reviews.

I paid full price for Solo and am refusing to find out what it's about.  It's Kwame Alexander's new book, that's all I need to know.
I accidentally bought the third book of the Nnewts graphic novel twice, but it's okay; my students love the series and have been waiting eagerly for this volume.
I got The 100 as a shameless TV connection.  I will do ANYTHING to get a kid to read.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a graphic novel that looks hilarious, even if its plot sounds a lot like the plot of Awkward.

The good thing about buying all these books is it does make me excited to get back into the classroom and start getting these into kids' hands!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Borrowed Board Games Review

I've mentioned before that we like to borrow games from the library.  It's a great way to find and test new games without having to commit to buying them, especially since although we really like to play family games, almost any game will go from board to boring if you play it often enough.  There are a handful we've tried lately that have been great fun, and I thought I'd share them with you.  Maybe you have access to a game library too, or are looking for a new game for your family or a gift.  These are all games my family really enjoyed and recommend.  For the record, we are one creative tween, one teen who struggles with literacy, one adult who is a chess and bridge champion, and one adult who is more into playing the game while socializing than actually winning--so a pretty wide range of tastes.   Titles link to Amazon.

1.  Pass the Pigs.

I had a version of this when I was a kid, but it was called Pigmania.  It's ridiculously simple and is 100% based on luck, yet we've found it surprisingly fun even over multiple playings.

There are two small rubber pigs.  You take turns "rolling" them like die.  You get points based on how they land.  One pig on its back?  Five points.  Both pigs standing up?  Ten points.  What ups the tension is that each player can choose to keep rolling, and adding points, as long as they choose--but if the pigs land on their opposite sides, you lose all your points from this turn.  (There's a cut-throat rule that if they land touching each other, the player loses ALL their points, but we've chosen to ignore that rule in favor of avoiding tears and tantrums.)  So silly.  So fun. (2-4 players, all ages)

Image result for pass the pigs

2.  ColorKu

It looks like Chinese checkers and plays like sudoku.  There's a wooden board with nine sets of squares that each have nine indentations.  There are colored wooden balls in nine shades.  You take a card (105 cards, from simple to wildly difficult) and place a handful of balls into the locations shown.  Then you try to place all the other balls so no color is repeated in a row or a square.  The Winemaker and I play this cooperatively after the kids go to bed, or it works well for solo play.  I like it better than Sudoku because it's so concrete. (1-2 players, aged "I enjoy logic games" and up.)

Image result for colorku

3.  Vye

A card game with gorgeously illustrated cards, Vie involves setting out cards next to matching cards in order to claim both--but your opponent can then lay down another matching card and take it all away.  A set of royal cards belongs to each player and they can also alter the game, and you can add as many (or few) "special" cards into the mix as you want, to keep things interesting.  We played it non-stop for a month, turned it in for six months, then checked it out again. (2-4 players, ages 8 and up.)

4.  Dixit

Our newest find, Dixit is another game that involved gorgeously illustrated cards.  No two are alike.  When it's your turn, you choose one of your cards and give the other players a clue--a word, a phrase, a story title--something that your card represents.  They each choose a card from their hand that could also be represented by that clue.  The cards are shuffled and presented, then everyone (except the person whose turn it is) guesses which is the "real" card.  Points are given for guessing correctly and for getting someone to guess your "wrong" card.  The clue-creator only wins if some people guess right and some guess wrong.  In other words, your clue can be neither too obvious nor to obscure.  I didn't now how the kids would do with the amorphous nature of the directions, but they got right into it, throwing out "adventure," "prison," and "odd one out" as some of their clues.  This is a game that works the complete opposite brain muscles from ColorKu!   (3-6 players, ages 10 and up.)

Image result for dixit

Does your family or friend group enjoy board games and card games?  What are some of your favorites?  Any unusual ones we should know about?

Friday, August 4, 2017

All the Best Reading Teachers are Reindeer

What?  You don't have a collage of reindeer pictures on your phone?*

My son is a reluctant reader.

My son is a struggling reader.

My son reads several grades below "grade level," which is a concept I hate, and yet--he clearly does not read well enough to keep up with the work in his classes.

I am a reading teacher, not to mention a compulsive reader.  This ranks right up there with "I'm an introvert; he's an extrovert" on the list of things that make us super frustrated with each other.

I could set up a summer reading program.  I could give him assignments and add him onto my classroom access to the phonics and fluency program at my school.  I could ask him to talk to me about his reading, to read aloud to me for fluency practice, to do worksheets about his work.

Or, I could NOT spend the summer engaged in power struggles with my son.  NOT make him feel humiliated and inadequate at home.  NOT align myself with the pain and frustration he associates with school.

That's the path I choose.

And yet, I am a reading teacher.  I can't do nothing (double negative intended).  So the daily plan this summer is 30 minutes of reading or 60 minutes of listening to an audiobook.  No constraints placed on that; just the simple requirement of time.

We are two solid months into summer.  He has read Calvin and Hobbes every goddamn day.


Don't get me wrong; Calvin and Hobbes have a lot to offer.  For one thing, he relates (so hard) to Calvin.  Being able to identify with a character is a great reader trait.  For another thing, Waterson was not writing for children, so there's a level of vocabulary, humor, and social commentary that are more grade appropriate than an "easy reader" book would be.  Plus Hobbes is possibly the greatest animal character ever written.  (Coming up soon, a reader poll about best animal characters ever.)

But still.  He is reading the same five comic collections in rotation.  Or rather, he's flipping through them, pausing at his favorites, skimming past the really wordy strips.  This is not what I had in mind.  (Before you ask, YES he has books on his bookshelf, YES we go to the library, YES I slide other books that I just know he would like on top of his stack of comics.)  But all he will read is Calvin and Hobbes.

Until today.


My kids love their stuffed animals, even as they move towards and into their teen years.  My husband's sweet and goofy side comes out in how he interacts with the stuffies as well.  Last night he was the last one to bed, and when I came downstairs this morning, Spot (the reindeer) was sitting on the couch, very focused on an open graphic novel, Lucy and Andy Neanderthal.  Spot was reading it, it turns out, because some of the pages include grass in the pictures (it's his main obsession in life). We all commented on his choice and his dedication (he was nearly all the way done with the book!), and my daughter helped him clear up some confusion about which order to read the boxes on the pages in.  Typical silly family stuff.

He came with us to the bookstore once, and loved the gardening section.

This evening, when it was time for my son to read, guess what he reached for?


It's one thing when your mom the middle school reading teacher recommends a book.  What would she know?  But when your REINDEER likes a book, it must be worth investigating.

I leave you with this video, which caused my husband to ask me for a personal reindeer for his upcoming birthday.  But I think we already have the world's best deer.

*To be honest, I didn't either--my daughter went out to take some pictures for me to illustrate this post with.  Naturally, when I asked her, "Would you take some pictures of Spot for me?" she posed him in the grassy yard.  

Though I DID already have that bookshop pose on my camera roll.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

July in Review

It's an "off-brand" graphic, but I'm recycling it from last summer because mmmm ice cream.

My Reading

# of books read: 21 plus picture books

 The Crossover (re-read); Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (audiobook); House Arrest (Novel in Verse); Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (nonfiction); A List of Cages (multiple POV); A Prayer for Owen Meany (literary fiction); You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (memoir); Our Dark Duet (fantasy); The Inexplicable Logic of my Life (contemporary), and Burn, Baby, Burn (historical fiction).

I love making up different categories so all of my favorites can be a "best of."  Yes, I am mentioning roughly half of my reading this month as "best of."  That is some GREAT READING! I also notice a lot of blue on the covers, with some yellow accents.

Mt. TBR progress: 39  I added six more books, which is pretty good.  Especially since three of them made that "best of" list!  More books to push onto kids. 


Bookish Events and Happenings

  • I'm still working on my #bookaday summer.  I killed it in July, frankly.  I know I said I read 21 books, but that's because I don't officially track picture books.  But I do count them for this challenge.  #consistent.  But there were many days in which yes, I read a whole book. 

  • I noticed a Little Free Library down the street from where I dropped my son of for day camp early this month, and a friend had just returned my copy of Glass Castle, which I've already read and probably wouldn't put in my middle school classroom, so I actually remembered to bring it along the next time and place it there.  #PayItForward.  (I'm just going to hashtag the heck out of this section, for some reason.  #hashtagtheheck #noreasonneeded)

  • I just spent a hundred bucks adding to my classroom library.  #whoops #letsnottellthewinemaker I was really focused on not buying any full-price books, at least.  Just remaindered and used.  But I HAD to get Kwame Alexander's new book, because duh.  Maybe I'll do a book haul post.  I don't usually do those, for some reason. 

  • We canceled our Audible account today (after cashing in the last few credits, of course.)  Our library keeps improving its Overdrive audiobook service, so why pay?  I'm sure that 8 bucks a month or whatever will totally cancel out the amount I spent on books today.  #accountantskillz

  • And I had this delightful Twitter exchange with Laurie Halse Anderson, author of (amongst others) Speak, The Impossible Knife of Memory, and Twisted.

I'm not at my regular library today, and am fighting this library's creakily ancient computers, so that's the best I can do in capturing not only her original tweet, but her spot-on response to my reply.  It's a gif, and Katniss is bowing and saying "Thank you." 

On the Blog

11 posts, which is kind of lame.  But I'm reading a bunch!  Plus I watched the entire season of Riverdale in one day and I'm deep into the second season of The 100, for which I 100% (ha!) blame Shannon.  And, well, kids and life and stuff. 

I did a whole-series (so far) review of Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books, I used a mentor text to attempt a poem, I listed a bunch of embarrassing things I've done, I did two tags: the Mid-Year Freakout tag and the Getting To Know Me tag, I posted two reviews of 5 star books, and I played Six Degrees of Separation


My daughter went to Iowa with my in-laws, then my son made a bow (as in "an arrow) at a weeklong day camp, then my daughter went to horse camp, and now my son is in another day camp.  So I've been spending a lot of time in the car.

One of my best friend moved to another state (boo), and another one took me on a float trip in honor of my birthday (yay).  The Winemaker went to Canada for almost two weeks and spent time with an old friend, then participated in the North American Bridge Championships.  (Think "card game" not "structural engineering.")  They got their asses handed to them on a platter, but they had a great time, got to play with some real experts (well, not with so much as against), and came home motivated to keep learning and improving. 

I had a week of half-day equity training.  Our district is going to be a case study for a PhD from University of Washington as she tests her research about how to make education more equitable and engaging for learners from diverse backgrounds.

I took my son up to Mt. Hood for a couple of days and we did a hike that used to be easy for least I can still make it. 


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.