Another Time Another Memory

I ripped through Jacqueline Woodson’s ‘Another Brooklyn’.  I really loved her format of short paragraphs which resemble poetic stanzas more.  I was so affected that I told my best girlfriends that it was about us, even though the only thing we had in common with the four protagonists was that we grew up in the 70’s.  No matter.  It was like Woodson was able to burn us down to the essence of what our sisterhood is.

Close. Confessional.

Giving each other unwavering support in the face of literally everything.

August, Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela are so different in terms of households and upbringing, but they are sisters of the soul.  We see their story through her eyes and even though we know that her mother will never return as she chants with conviction throughout the slim volume.  We want to believe her, but we should know better, like her brother when he accuses, “You used to say she was coming back. . .Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (page 135)

I just want to read Woodson’s beautiful and heartbreaking and raw prose all of the time. If I were to highlight lines that I loved, most of the book would be a blaring yellow neon. Look at just this paragraph describing the girls: “Maybe this is how it happened first for everyone–adults promising us their own failed futures.  I was bright enough to teach, my father said, even as my dream of stepping into Sylvia’s skin included one day being a lawyer.  Angela’s mom had draped the dream of dancing over her. And Gigi, able to imitate every one of us, could step inside anyone she wanted to be, close her eyes, and be gone. Close her eyes and be anywhere.” (page 63)

Later, you feel for the oncoming tragedy of these girls and we can’t stop it from happening.

It’s life.  It’s growing up.

Woodson explains in her Afterword,  “At the day’s end, a writer lives alone with her story, wrestling with characters and settings, and the way light filters into and out of a scene.  The deeper messages often escape her.  Sometimes I take for granted the journey through the telling.  At other times I curse the muse’s power.  But through it all, I live each day in deep gratitude.” (page 175)

Jacqueline, as a reader, I do too.

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Three Quick Snippets

We have an area right by my classroom door for people to write quick post-it sized reviews/shout-outs about books people are reading. Here are three by me:
1) Elsewhere by Gavrielle Zevin (I LOVE HER!): Super interesting story! What happens when Liz (15 years old) is killed in a hit and run?
In ‘Elsewhere’ you age backwards until you are 4 weeks old and reincarnated. What happens until then is up to you!

2) The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover: What happens when (24 year old) Taylor is given a 3 year old Indian baby? Why, she names her Turtle, of course! A great book about making your own family!!! Totally engaging!!!

3) Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Loving this book so much! Adventure with a group of 6 misfits! Grisha Magic! An impossible heist!! Excellent world building! I was sucked in for the ride of a lifetime!

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Mowing Down the Competition (Literally!)

SCYTHE by Neal Shusterman: I bought this for my 7th grade classroom library and my very first reader did a Book Talk on it yesterday! He made the book sound so exciting and the class was riveted as he read an excerpt which takes place on a plane. In this dystopia novel, Neal Shusterman masterfully creates an interesting world where people can be resurrected, but in order to control the population, certain young people are trained as Scythes. They are able to mete out death without the possibility of resurrection. It is a difficult responsibility to carry, and as we are all human, some deal with it better than most. We follow two candidates, a boy and a girl, through their extremely difficult training (both physically and mentally) and tension rises as only one of them will become a Scythe and the other will be reaped! A great read for YA and adults alike. Really hoping for a sequel!

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Lazy (Busy) Sunday Musings

I’ve come to the conclusion that stressed out might be my natural state.  I have been almost maniacal in my constant push to get things done: for my new 7th grade classes, my graduate level UHM class I’m also teaching, and still try to get home and mom duties done as well.  I try to get in tiny “me time” breaks in, but am beset with feelings of guilt if I’m not “working”.  I know, this is crazy, but I still feel this way.

Some great things coming out of my constant motion: my students are getting into their reading workshop mode and some are already on their 2nd, or 3rd, or 5th books!  I hope one of my super readers will do her 1st Book Talk this week and set the tone for the rest of them.  I have always done Book Talks (ask my former students), but it was usually after I read a great book that I just had to share! (All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for example!!!!).  But now, I have shared two to three books and different ones at that with each of my 4 sections every day for the past two weeks.  The kids are great; they stand poised with their pens ready to jot down a title to add to their Someday Lists.  I’ve been pulling out all the stops.  Sharing books that I just Love LOVE LOVE! The Black Book of Secrets? Check. Fangirl and it’s companion Carry On? Check. Non-fiction books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Check. Becoming Nicole? Check check! My Period 5 kids are especially great.  They are open to me talking about any kind of books that my other periods are a little tentative about.  They are not put off about books with LGBTQ+ characters.  They told me to call them “rainbow” books and will raise their hands and battle each other (via Jun Ken Po [Rock Paper Scissors]) when I ask who wants to read the book.

It is a serious dream-come-true to know that I am creating a world where my students are free enough to talk about and share their love of books. This is me Book Doctoring/Prescribing  at a constant pace and I love it although my eyes are bleeding.  My ego won’t let me recommend a book that I haven’t read, nor love myself.  It will be great to take a backseat when the chain reaction of the kids taking over the Book Talks, with me getting into the mix from time to time, begins!

What I’m currently reading and/or have just finished: The Outsiders, The Lost and Found, Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence, Black Wolves.

Hopefully, it won’t be a month until I write my next post!!!

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Rising (Reading) Like A Phoenix

I haven’t posted a blog entry for 3 years and I have been swamped! But, I’ve decided to return and resurrect my blog as I begin the 3rd chapter in my teaching career.  I will be starting at a new school and I will be teaching 4 sections of 7th graders and 1 section of Juniors and my 7th grade team has decided that we will use the Reading and Writing Workshop model!  They say that an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but this old dog sure can! I am enjoying delving into the world of Nancy Atwell and Penny Kittle and I am just foaming at the mouth to get going!

Our research emphatically states that the most effective way to serve our students is to have kids not read the classics, but to get them to become voracious readers (right up my alley!) and the classical reading will come! I wholeheartedly agree and I am carefully curating and adding to my book collection!

I spend hours just thinking about, reading about, processing and reading my books in preparation! The feeling I get when I hear the shoonk! of stamping my name into my books is like no other! Like a pro athlete, I am visualizing my book talks which will spark and entice my students to get on the path of becoming lifelong readers (and scholars) of the printed word. I can just picture them becoming true bibliophiles and my books just flying off the shelves!

They say that when one door closes, another one opens and I, for one, am leaping through! Please come with me as I continue my work as a literature teacher, reading guide, and book doctor!

Here are just a sampling of the 100’s of books my students will be able to explore and love!

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Shot Through The Heart: Great Girl Characters

images-2images-3imagesimages-1 I have been reading an avalanche of books and many of them have featured strong feminine characters.  Two series that I have been obsessed with are so different, yet they have women at their core.  

I have continued to read Gail Carriger after reading ‘Etiquette and Epionage’.  The Parasol Protectorate series is placed in the future from the time of E and E, and the main character Alexia Tarabotti is a diamond of the first water.  She doesn’t see herself that way, in fact, she views herself as an oddball, beautifully dressed, but an oddball just the same. She is born without a soul and is able, through physical touch, to force supernaturals like werewolves and vampires back into their mortal state as long as the contact is maintained.  She is very curious and is absolutely headstrong and determined.  Armed with her beloved silver-tipped parasol, she cannot be swayed once she is embroiled in a mystery.  One of her best friends is a vampire named Lord Akeldama with his own gang of dandified young men (drones) and he has many of the best lines in the series.  I love the witty banter between Alexia and any number of characters, especially the alpha werewolf Lord Conall Maccon who immediately recognizes her as his alpha female, even though she is not a werewolf herself!

This series is chock full of steam punk references and hive/pack/family dynamics.  Alexia is able to handle any type of problem from the most mundane to national security!  Queen Victoria even shows up to appoint her to the Shadow Council.  Alexia also believes that any type of ruckus (huge crazy mechanized octopus anyone?) can be endured with a cup of tea and her weaponized parasol at her side.  A satirical romp of delight!

The other series I am obsessed with is His Fair Assassin series by Robin Lafevers, who is known as a children’s writer (Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos et al.).  This series is miles away from her books for younger readers.  I was hookedwith two words I read in a review for the first novel, ‘Grave Mercy.’

Killer. Nuns.

That’s all it took for me to immerse myself in the world of  a small medieval country within France named Brittany.   I was immediately taken in  by the detailed yet stark language of the first person narration of Ismae and the Lady Sybella (protagonist of the 2nd book ‘Dark Triumph’).  The foreboding mood and tension felt was palatable. The characters didn’t know who to trust, so it was much safer to trust no one.  Ismae and Sybella, along with Annith (the heroine of the upcoming ‘Mortal Heart’) find their individual ways to the Convent worshipping St. Mortain.  He is the God/Saint of Death.  The girls go through a stringent training regime to make them assassins for the church.    Whether it is knives, crossbows, or poisons, they are more than capable.  I looked forward to the scenes where these handmaidens had to mete out death in the name of St. Mortain, their Abbess, Justice, or even Mercy.  These women come to realize that they are more than just weapons or instruments for others to wield; they are themselves and they must find their way towards self-identity, acceptance and even love.  Ismae and Sybella thankfully have each other and Annith and it is their sisterhood that holds them up when it is hopeless.  The author also gifts each of them with a complex man, Gavriel for Ismae, no matter that she is sent to see if he is a traitor and must eliminate him if he is and Benebic De Waroch, known as the beserker Beast for Sybella.  Each man lives in and understands the darkness within their lady and it is the light of their acceptance that helps free them.

The main conflict of the series deals with yet another strong female character.  Anne, the Duchess, all 12 years of her, is also a prisoner to the world around her.  She is the unconfirmed ruler of this country and a political pawn.  Her deceased father promised her to any number of nobles and countries.  Now her most powerful suitor,  D’Albret, evil through and through and fifty years old to boot, schemes to get them married making her his 7th wife.  Sybella, is unfortunately his daughter and is made to return to his hellish holding per the Abbess’ orders to spy and thwart his plans.  Ismae must protect Anne as her secret body guard not to mention she is Gavriel’s half-sister.  Both women’s fates are inextricably woven with their young ruler.

Lafevers paints a very murky picture with political machinations, betrayals, and twists at every turn and I can’t get enough of  it.  This near seamless exercise in verisimilitude is breathtaking.  I hope I make it to Spring when ‘Mortal Heart’ comes out and it is Annith’s time to fight back.

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Into a Dream Darkly: Blackbringer and Silksinger

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I love fantasy.  All types.  Laini Taylor came into my life last summer when I was able to listen to an audiobook of her ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bones’ and it blew me away.  After that, I decided to read everything I could get my hands on by her and I love it all.  This summer I read both ‘Blackbringer’ and ‘Silksinger,’ two companion novels from her Dreamdark world with two very interesting heroines and their male companions.  

Magpie Windwitch is in both novels and I want to be her friend.  She is tough, vulnerable and loyal.  She is willing to take on the task of being a devil hunter which means she goes around with her adopted clan of long-lived crows tracking escaped devils (which come in a multitude of shapes, forms, and powers) and injuring them so that she is able to put them back into their magiked bottles.  She so wants to emulate her idol Bellatrix, who is long dead.  ‘Pie, as she is called by close friends and family, doesn’t know it yet, but she is so unique since she has been dreamed into being by the Dijinn King The Magruwen to save their world.  There are seven Dijinns and they are powerful genies who have left the world behind to dream in secret places.  As a result, the Tapestry, which wove the world and every living thing into being is becoming tattered which is allowing darkness and evil into the world.  It is up to Magpie (who has the power to weave the Tapestry) and her allies to find and wake the Dijinn while battling Darkbringer, who has been inadvertently released by “mannies” or humans.  It wants to consume the world in darkness and very nearly does.  

Magpie is joined by the brave Talon, the prince of the Rathersting clan of faeries.  He cannot fly (to his everlasting shame), but his skill at knitting while using a pair of dijinn-made needles allows him to create skins which help transform him into a falcon.  Both main protangonists have much character development as they learn to accept their identities and how they fit into the much larger scheme of their world and how they depend on each other to reach their highest potential.  

There is much magic that faeries can wield with their use of glyphs (symbols of power they hold in their mind) and enchanted objects like Bellatrix’s dagger Skuldraig which Magpie finds.  It will take everything within them to attempt to rid Dreamdark of Blackbringer and it is a rollicking adventure to see this come to pass.

‘Silksinger’ takes place after ‘Blackbringer’ is completed.  There are now two storylines, one with Magpie and another one focusing on the last silksinger, Whisper. She is so named since she can only speak at a whisper lest her powerful voice affect all who hear it.  She is tasked with protecting another one of the lost Dijinn, the Azazel, whose form is a tiny ember she carries around in a beaten teapot.  She has no shoes and just the clothes on her back.  The very first chapter captured my attention and the rest of the novel never let me go.  

Magpie is asked by Whisper’s dead relatives to find her and help her bring the Azazel back to his throne in his long-forgotten temple.  All this while she herself is trying to protect the ember of another Dijinn, the Ithuriel (in a cooking pot for safekeeping).  As in ‘Blackbringer,’ there is a male protagonist as well.  His name is Hirak Mothmage and he has to hide his heritage since his clan of faeries are hated for a supposed betrayal long ago.  This novel is equal to the first and we are again caught up in the danger and wonder of this world.  Both main characters find that they deal with duty thrust upon them, and the sacrifice, and the redemption that comes with being heroes.  The scene where Whisper is forced to weave a flying carpet for the evil half man/half tarantula who has imprisoned her is haunting and powerful as the song she sings to make it so.  I felt helpless as I read about the five firedrakes who are leeched each day for their life-sustaining blood for the mysterious Master by the kindhearted and downtrodden snag who must do this or become a meal himself.  How it all turns out is a tale that will not soon be forgotten.  

Laini Taylor is a rare find.  She, like both Magpie and Whisper, is able to weave words  together to create true works of art which take the reader flying through a dark dream that we don’t wish to be awaken from.  Bravo!  

Note: Much of our visualization of her world is also due in part by her husband, Jim Di Bartolo’s amazing renderings of the characters which are sprinkled throughout both novels!  

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