Monday, August 13, 2012

I'm going to Haiti

We have the dates! I will be going to Haiti with a group from my sons' school. It has been such a privilege to learn more about this beautiful country. Pictured above are two of our little hikers. They are wearing the names of the children they hiked in honor of during our "Hike for Haiti" to Henninger Flats this past June. The hike's goal was to raise money for the kids at Ste. Marguerite's school in Haiti and to allow our kids to experience the same distance the Haitian kids hike daily to and from school. The children in this small village hike 2.5 miles to school and back without eating while at school, and many of them do not eat breakfast. Miraculously, we were able to raise enough money to fund the hot lunch program at their school for one year. Hooray! And in February I will have the pleasure of meeting the children in La Tournelle, Haiti. We even get to camp on the top of the mountain where the children attend school. More details to come.

Who knew when my sons did their "Magic for Haiti" show in our backyard in January 2010, just weeks after the earthquake,  that we would have yet another wonderful connection to this beautiful country. 

We will have an entire book table dedicated to books about Haiti this year at our school book fair and I've seen a peek at some of the titles. I know where I'll be shopping!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ghost Town Blog

There is nothing creepier than a ghost town blog. Did the blogger die? Did her dream die? Was that a tumbleweed that just rolled by? What the heck happened!

I've had my head down and I've been writing. Writing a lot and reading a lot, just not blogging. I miss writing book reviews about the good books I'm reading. Writing reviews helps me figure out plotting and pacing, which is a constant battle. Much to my surprise, a few people have mentioned my reviews help them choose books for their kids. I love that. I also miss the reflection part of blogging, even though I still do that in my journal. I'm going to try and be a better blogger.

Steve Jobs died yesterday. I love the quotes from him that are surfacing. This one is especially good. 

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” -- Steve Jobs, 2005, at Stanford

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Academy Awards for Book Nerds

I love the American Library Association Awards. They don't air on Sunday nights. There's no pre-show, no red carpet fashion at the Kodak Theater, and no hungry paparazzi. I appreciate the other kind of award shows too, don't get me wrong, but the ALA awards are a different kind of beast. A whispering subdued beast who is completely unaware of her attire, but her horn-rimmed glasses scream "Momma's gonna knock you out!" Did I mention that I love ALAS?

The awards air stream on the ALA website on a Monday morning (pre-dawn) in mid-January (day 4 of the librarians' conference) from a random hotel conference room in anywhere USA with paneled tapestry carpet on the walls and coughing in the background. When the video first starts, someone is always frantically pouring water from the metal hotel pitcher into their tiny little glass. The whole production is delicious.

The librarians start with the lesser known awards: the Theodore Geisel, the Coretta Scott King, the Schneider and slowly make their way to the Prinz (Young Adult), the Caldecott (Picture Book) and finally the John Newbery.

I like the Newbery the best.

I thought I'd read the middle grade book of 2010 that was set to take the Newbery Gold. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia. It has incredible voice, great setting, a historical backdrop (not necessary for a Newbery but helps make it *distinguished* which is oh so Newbery). But I was wrong. One Crazy Summer took one of the four slots for a Newbery Honor spots- a silver sticker! Instead a wildcard one the gold- Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. It just debuted in October. I can't wait to read it!

One Crazy Summer just picked up the Scott O'Dell award for best Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King, so there will be plenty of stickers on Rita's cover.

Here is a summary of the Newbery winners:

2011 John Newbery Medal Award Winner:

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool Delacorte/Random House, 2010ISBN 978-0385738835
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Honor Medal:

Dark Emporer and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman illustrated by Rick Allen Houghton Mifflin, 2010ISBN 978-0547152288
Welcome to the night, where mice stir and furry moths flutter. Where snails spiral into shells as orb spiders circle in silk. Where the roots of oak trees recover and repair from their time in the light. Where the porcupette eats delicacies—raspberry leaves!—and coos and sings.Come out to the cool, night wood, and buzz and hoot and howl—but do beware of the great horned owl—for it’s wild and it’s windy way out in the woods!

Honor Medal:

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus Amulet/Abrams Books, 2010ISBN 978-0810989818
In 1841, a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way.
Manjiro, a fourteen-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives for some time in New England, and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

Honor Medal:

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia Amistad/HarperCollins, 2010ISBN 978-0060760885
Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.
When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.
Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, one crazy summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls in search of the mother who abandoned them—an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.

Honor Medal:

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. HolmRandom House, 2010ISBN 978-0375836886
Inspired by family stories, two-time Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.
If you would like more juice on the Caldecotts, this is the best picture book website I know!
Make sure a take a look.

I've read the Collier book and Interrupting Chicken and love them both. I haven't read Amos McGee but I know many people in the picture book world who predicted it's Caldecott win weeks ago. I was at Vroman's this morning, and asked my favorite bookseller her opinion of the Caldecott winners. She thinks the judges were all bribed and all the wrong books won. Funny how subjective it all can be!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Soapbox about Audio Books

I'm not a super black and white person. I see lots of shades of gray and I really like it that way. It works for me and it always has. Having kids has made me see more black and whites. I remember even noticing it when I was pregnant. I started feeling certain about things, as they related to me and our little growing familia. When my kids were born I took a position on several things. I would breast-feed as long as I could, when my kids became able-bodied they would do regular and often rigorous chores, and (this one felt like a biggie) getting on the floor a lot with them when they were little was of supreme importance. In my mind there were *getting on the floor* people and *not getting on the floor people*. I wanted my kids to know they were worth getting on the floor for, plus is sounded like fun.

I was also staunchly opposed to videos players in cars, car rides are for fighting with brothers, talking, occasionally singing together but mostly kids should be bored in car rides, short ones and long ones, staring at trees. I felt religious about this one. To add fuel to my already burning flame, more recently, I took the Oprah "no phone zone" pledge so why should they be haplessly entertained when I am giving up a vice?
My mother-in-law has a video player in her red van, she extols the virtues of silent kiddos in the back for hours on end. In her defense, she has lots of grandkids and does lots of kid-watching. When I am a Grandma, I will fully embrace technology too, I will let my grandchildren teleport themselves to Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island on a whim, or even dabble in time travel, if we are doing an overnight.

But, right here, right now, I thought, these are my kids, and I get to do it my way and I said no TV in our cars.

When I am in the red van, riding shotgun with Grandma, I turn around to see their faces. They are the same TV faces I see at home- eyes locked, mouth slightly gaped and occasionally wincing or chewing on a shirt collar. It sometimes looks painful.

Enter the book on audio. There was a whole wall of them at the library, and we had a six hour drive to Northern California to complete. It's a friendly stranger reading them a story, right? Gotta love it. What I didn't fully appreciate is this stranger sounds like a cast of 40, able to change in and out of voices like that crazy couple of TV with more layers of clothes than a homeless man in Buffalo. 

Then I realized, when listening to a book on audio, they have this awesome serene look on their faces, even during some pretty scary stuff. And they are looking out the window of the car, looking at those trees I was so intent they see. But truthfully, I'm not sure exactly what they are looking at. I have to keep my wits about me and drive, but there is still some sort of invisible screen out there, or inside of their little minds.

To me their eyes seem to be doing a little dance, their mouth quivering slightly, sometimes re-mouthing a funny line just blurted out by the gutsy hero. My favorite boy to watch is my middle one (be careful, driving and watching your children for entertainment can be hazardous). He acts out movements described by the author, at least one little gesture a page. It's that predictable.

Yesterday was my favorite one of all times. It was a line from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli,

"Grayson's smile was so big you had to break it into pieces to fit it through the door."

My seven year old's fingers patted the corners of his lips and he practiced a few quick smiles, like he was testing the elasticity of a new rubber-band. Then he tugged side-ways on his cheeks. Could his smile really block a doorway? How would you then break that smile down, to get on through that door? He smiled again and shook his head.

Aah, the glorious wonder of the audio book. Libraries have amazing selections and two weeks is the perfect window for a short novel from start to finish just zipping around town. And beware of the extra big smiles that come along for the ride!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I am really excited about a new post I should be able to write in about a week. My plan is for it to be the first of many in a monthly recurring post. It's going to be called... Are you ready? Are you really ready? Flashback Newbery!

I have so many *Hall of Shame" Newbery books I haven't read. I was especially shamed when I read a post by a blogger who has read ALL the Newbery Honor books since 1926! She did it systematically (a la Julie and Julia). That's impressive. But why would someone want to go back in time? Especially when life has changed so much in the past 100 years? Won't the stories in these books be dusty and boring? I feel called to do a fearless and searching inventory of some of these hallowed books!

A Marty McFly for Newberys!

Because my oldest has hit fourth grade and my day from 3:00 involves wearing many hats including but not limited to homework whip-cracker, short-order cook, chauffer, dog-catcher (our new rescue dog is a houdini) etc... And day-time is filled with work, plus stuff so boring to list it will put you to sleep. So you get it- I need to use my reading time wisely. If that's the case, why would I want to get in a time machine and read old childrens' books especially when so many great ones are coming out every single month? (I'm reading those too, but that is not the point here!)
This is why. Because getting in a time machine and going back to some early Newbery winners has been SO MUCH FUN!  More details to follow SOON!
*This is Uncle Rico's time machine from Napoleon Dynamite. Remember? Nerdelicious.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pablo Neruda- The Dreamer

Pamela Munoz Ryan is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard that she had written a fictionalized story about the life of poet Pablo Neruda, I knew I had to get my hands on the book. The Dreamer was not what I expected, but it was a perfect homage to Neruda and was a delight to read. 
I was expecting a young adult book, or at the very least a book for upper middle-grade. Pablo Neruda is a sophisticated romantic (read racy) Chilean poet. The book is suggested for a wide middle-grade audience from grade 4 to grade 9, dipping down low into fourth grade was not what I'd anticipated. The book itself is weighty and long, 384 pages. But it is filled with gorgeous drawings, whimsical poetry and light-hearted visual imagery that seem to match the character of the fictionalized Chilean boy, Neftali Reyes who sees, hears and feels poetry all around him from an early age. The story is hefty enough to engage an older reader but the drawings that hint at the story ahead are engaging enough to draw in younger readers who will be intrigued by Neftali and want to know why such drawings are on the page, and wonder where the drawings will lead them.  
As NeftalĂ­ grows into a teen, he becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the indigenous Mapuche in his Chilean homeland. Pamela Munoz Ryan does a wonderful job of integrating these themes of social injustice, neither overwhelming nor becoming secondary to NeftalĂ­’s story.

For any readers who loved Pamela Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising or (my own personal favorite) Becoming Naomi Leon, her fans, here, will be equally entranced by her writing and storytelling, and moved by Sis' illustrations. The Dreamer would also be appreciated by any young reader (or old!) who doesn't feel like a natural fit in traditional academic surroundings or who likes to color outside of the lines. Feeling, seeing and hearing creatively all around you can feel like a curse if your surroundings are asking you to behave, but Pablo Neruda and The Dreamer teach us to not snuff out the candle, the world needs to see and be warmed by that special and unique light!  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I heart Taylor

So I just had to post a link to this blog entry by Cheryl Klein because not only do I love almost every post on her blog, this one is particularly eerie to me because in it I learned that I am not the only person who lays awake at night dissecting Taylor Swift lyrics!

There is a line in Taylor's song Mine that I listened over and over again so I could write it down and figure out why it sounded so so beautiful and why a few short words made up an entire story. I loved reading Cheryl's post today and seeing that I am not the only person who thinks her words are sheer perfection when it comes to teens and getting to the heart of the matter.

One thing Cheryl didn't bring up was the beautiful song Taylor sang at the VMAs earlier this week. Someone said to me that she really put "Kanye in his place." Huh? What? I didn't feel that way at all! Listening to the song, it felt like an olive branch. Didn't you think?

I looked online and there seems to be great controversy about her intent. So let me set this straight. I feel like I'm entitled because I couldn't have been prouder of Taylor, I felt like she was my little sis up there teaching a jaded world about forgiveness and quiet grace. It was so not a jab.

And of course she wrote a song about it, that's what Taylor does. She's a teenager and she's Taylor Swift, so if all the adults out there think she should've just taken it in stride and moved on, they clearly don't remember what it means to be a teen. Millions of young girls (and boys) listen to her music and if they haven't lived through an experience that required an act of forgiveness yet, they soon will. I love that Taylor wasn't about revenge and payback.

Because I have a mental catalog of her music, I feel like I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Taylor can't let go of the past without learning from it. How cool is that? Keep writing Tay Tay. Whether or not you agree with all her messages is one thing (I personally don't), but there is no denying that she set a glorious example of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. I heart Taylor.