Book Love

Yesterday I read Christopher Paul Curtis’s newest book, The Journey of Little Charlie. I’m a Curtis fan, and critics have already given the book rave reviews.

They were right. Curtis has done it again with an on point historical fiction adventure that captures a unique point of view through the main character, Charlie. Charlie is the twelve-year-old son of a white sharecropper who, through a series of mishaps, spends the greater part of the tale assisting a hateful overseer on a trip north to capture “thieves”. As it turns out, the property that the thieves stole was themselves and their future children.

This is a book that needs to be read. Curtis has illuminated a chunk of our American history that requires us to look in the mirror and face hard truths. A part of history that we cannot ignore or avoid because, without it, we cannot begin to try to understand the state of our nation as it exists today. And as always, when I read children’s literature, I read this book asking which of my students’ hands can I put this into right away?

This will be a difficult read for some of my fifth graders. There are several passages that are hard to read because they realistically describe certain horrific events of the time. Then again, few of my fifth graders are immune to knowledge of horrific events taking place in our own time. Additionally, Curtis captures the dialect of the characters so well that it may make it challenging for a ten year old native New Yorker to decipher some of it. But that’s something I can help my young readers work through.

What matters most to me is that I open doors to understanding by exposing my students to independent reading material that they might not encounter without my guidance. My students and I have talked together about Rudine Sims Bishop’s paradigm of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. We’ve discussed how the books we choose for ourselves should be a sampling of each of those ideas, so we can identify with some characters and learn to empathize with others. Each of us needs to see ourselves in the books that we read, and each of us to needs to read books that open our minds to the unique experiences of others.

There is so much that my ten-year-old students don’t yet know. There is so much that I don’t yet know. As a teacher, it’s my job, no, it’s my sacred responsibility to give my students the tools and resources to help them best grow during the short time we are in each other’s lives. So I choose to provide them with something lasting. With a philosophy of learning that will carry them way beyond the time they spend in my classroom. With a tool that will enable them to be citizens of a socially just world that they will continually need to create.

To me, that tool is a love of reading. A taste for excellence in literature. An understanding that our understanding can be infinitely broadened if we choose well from the enormous number of books that are out there waiting for us.

So on Monday, I will place this new book in my classroom library. However, this will not be enough. I will also need to talk it, to sell it, to raffle it. I’ll start by holding it up in front of my students at the carpet, telling them about the afternoon I spent reading it. How I couldn’t put it down. How it took me a few chapters to adjust to the authentic voice of the narrator. How I thought of them the whole time I was reading because I couldn’t wait to be able to discuss it together. Then I’ll tell them how I’ll be ordering a few more copies, but I have one to raffle off today. One lucky student will win the opportunity to be the first reader, the one whose name will go on the First Read By sticker inside the cover of this copy. Finally, I’ll hand the book to that ten year old reader.

And then, at last, the magic will begin.



Where the Heart Is

Third day home sick and snowed in again. School’s closed, and I’m in bed.

Ever notice how something that seems like it might be fun in the beginning ends up being an annoyance after a surprisingly short time? Not that having the flu was something that I hoped for. I mean, I got my shot this year. I thought I was safe. But once I’d visited the doctor and started three different medications, I thought I could maybe enjoy lying in bed for a couple of days. Catch up on my DVR recordings, read a book or two, sip green tea, that sort of thing.

But here I am, just a few days in, feeling the same way I used to feel when I was ten and a friend had slept over the night before. And, we’re done here. Can’t things just go back to normal already? I mean it was fun for a while, but clearly we’ve had enough of each other. The party’s over. Leave.

I knew things were going downhill when I woke up this morning. I decided it was time for a shower, along with a change of clothes. And by clothes, I mean pajamas. Which I had actually run out of. Ever resourceful, I switched to sweatpants. A step up. I thought it might make me feel more alive. I tried.

Then I ate my usual under the weather breakfast. Cream of wheat cereal. Code name, farina. Extra soothing with skim milk instead of water. Only this time it didn’t make me feel comfy cozy. Actually, it made me gag a little. Not good. It worked the last two days. What was happening?

I decided to open the shades in my bedroom, so I could let in some light from the outside world. The ground was covered in a blanket of clean, white, powdery snow. Just like yesterday. Yesterday. The day I looked out and thought how beautiful, how peaceful, how pristine. Only today as I noticed that another six to eight inches had been added to the mix, I had a slightly different reaction. How much is out there? Where are the crocuses? Help me, I’m trapped!

Upon reflection, my reactions today are all good signs. I must be starting to feel better. My nap this afternoon was a short one. I’m still drinking chicken soup, but I did make it all the way into the living room for a walk. And I only went through one box of tissues since the morning. All in all, I’m almost ready to join the world again.


I mean, why rush things? Maybe one more day to eat some mashed potatoes, do a crossword puzzle, and see if any of the characters from the eighties are still working at General Hospital. After all, there really is no place like home.


Everyone’s a Critic

Another snow/flu day. This one spent watching movies. The Oscar nominees.

I’m no film critic, but I do have some thoughts. Just in case anyone’s wondering. I think this is the part when you’re supposed to say Spoiler Alert, which nobody ever needed to say before 2010, but there, I said it.

Our afternoon started with Call Me By My Name. Or Your Name. I forgot which. It took place in 1983. I remember 1983. There wasn’t as much wine or bicycle riding in Syracuse. Why does everything always seem better in the movies? Talk about supportive parents. Not only didn’t they mind the grad student having an affair with their seventeen year old son, but they even sent them off together for a three day vacation. I love the movies.

Next we watched Ladybird. I thought I would laugh more. I spent the whole movie trying to decide if I’m more of the mother or the daughter. Hard to tell. Maybe more like the older brother. It might have been too much to watch two coming of age movies in a row. Coming of age is a lot of work. Very stressful. The ending of Ladybird was unusually abrupt. I know this because I heard myself saying, That’s it? And it was.

I paused Darkest Hour in the middle, so I could write this. That film was my idea. Because we wanted something uplifting after the first two. So I picked this one. Because Churchill is way of age by the time the movie starts. And also, we all know England eventually wins the war. Plus it’s months till Season 3 of The Crown comes out on Netflix, and I’ve been missing my British chums. Anyway, I probably should’ve paid more attention to the title when I chose Darkest Hour for our happy movie. Oops.

I think after three movies, we’ll need a break from the screen. Maybe I’ll read for a while. I have a few books on the night table that have been waiting for me. I suppose I should start with Hamilton. Although it’s extremely long. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t end well for him.

Maybe one more movie would be okay. Seen anything good lately?

Under the Weather

I’m sick today. I have a fever, so I went to the doctor. Which I hate. I’m very neurotic about anything having to do with health. So to prepare for seeing the doctor, I worry about everything that could be wrong. And I’m very good at it. I have a huge list of possible ailments that could befall me at any time. And while I sit in the waiting room, I run through every one of them. In detail.

While I was in the waiting room, I had to wear a mask. I wondered whether enough oxygen was getting through the paper. And if it was, was the carbon dioxide getting back out again? Somehow it seems unhealthy to breathe in your own germs while the mask blocks it from getting to the air outside.

The minute I walk into the examining room, my blood pressure rises. Because I know they are going to take it. And I know it will be too high because I’m stressing about having it taken. And then I will worry for weeks about sudden death from high blood pressure.

Doctors ask a lot of questions. Which I don’t like to answer. The more symptoms I share, the better chance they’ll hit me with a diagnosis. And it won’t be good. On the other hand, if I lie, I might end up covering up the most important piece of information that could lead to a cure.

Instead of seeing my doctor, today I saw a physician’s assistant. Of course, I worry that she’s not a real doctor. Last time I saw the PA, she googled the medicine she was prescribing to make sure she gave me the right dosage. That did not inspire confidence. Today she did not consult google. So now I have to worry that she gave me the wrong dosage.

The PA prescribed three medications. The first thing I do when I get home from the pharmacist is read the warnings on the label. Not always a good idea. The next thing I do is worry that I will have some horrible reaction when I take the medication. Will they combine in my stomach in some unintended way, causing a deadly chemical reaction? I should be able to answer that shortly because I just swallowed them all at the same time.

Then there’s the water. Take with plenty of water. What’s plenty? Is plenty eight ounces? Ten ounces? Twelve ounces? How can I know for sure? I can’t. And that’s why I’ll drink twenty-four ounces.

Whenever I stay home sick, it reminds me of when I was young. I pretty much do the same things when I stay home sick today that I did then. Lie in bed, watch game shows on TV, eat toast with butter and feel sorry for myself.

And pillows. Pillows are really important when you’re sick. I like tons of extra pillows around me, so I can keep moving them around to get just the right amount of fluffy comfort. Because I deserve it. Becaue I’m sick.

No reaction to the pills so far, so I’m heading back to bed. To rest. To recuperate. And to imagine what else could go wrong.

Day by Day

Today Omar wanted to tell the whole class about the book he’s reading.

Today Maya asked Ravi for a recommendation. She’s looking for a fantasy read, and she knows he’s an expert.

Today the whole class cheered because we’re starting the sequel to The Wild Robot. We read the first one to start our year together, and now the sequel is finally here.

Tomorrow my morning class will Skype with kids in Ontario. In the afternoon we’ll Skype with Spokane. The students will be meeting to share the books that they love.

It’s the middle of March. And we are a community of readers. We talk about books, we recommend books, we abandon books, we reserve books, we choose books, we lose books, we argue over books. Mostly, we just read books.

At least once a month, I order new books. The day after the Amazon box arrives on my doorstep, I show up to class with the new additions. Some are selections that students specially requested. Others are my picks. Books that I’m so excited to get into the hands of my students that I can’t wait for next year’s school financed order to buy them. As I hold up each gem, hands fly up. “I want it!” “Can I read it first?” But they know the drill. If a book is in demand, put your name on a post-it, and we’ll randomly choose. Talk about excitement! You’d think I was raffling off a trip to outer space! And sometimes, depending on the book, that’s exactly what they win.

Sometimes a student wants to read a book that’s a challenge. There will be new words that she doesn’t yet know. There will be detailed parts that might confuse her. But she chooses it anyway. Not because she doesn’t know that it’s “hard”. But because she’s a reader. And she’s willing to try. And this is an opportunity for her to grow. Maybe she’ll read it with a friend, and they can support each other through conversation. Maybe I’ll be her reading partner, and we can discuss strategies for getting through the tough parts. Or maybe she’ll get most of the story, but not all of it. No matter. If she loves it, she can read it again. Maybe this summer. Maybe next year. Or not. Either way, it becomes part of her reading life, part of her history, part of her world.

Yesterday my class asked if we could spend a whole afternoon reading. Nothing else. Just reading. I told them I’d think about it. But I already knew the answer. Yes, Yes, hallelujah yes! Because any class that asks to spend a whole afternoon reading, absolutely deserves to be able to do just that.

It’s March, and we are a community of readers. And I love it. Don’t get me wrong. We still have our moments. There are students who struggle to sit still. Our flexible seating can sometimes be too flexible. And once in a while, there’s that one elusive child who still can’t find a book.

But we’re a community. And we’ll get through it. Day by day by day.

In the meantime, we read.




Lights Out

Last night I was up until four.

It might have been stress. There’s a lot on my plate. I was worrying about parent conferences. I was worrying about writing plans. I was worrying about blogging.

I also might have been digesting the large chocolate ices I ate at 11. Perhaps it was that. What does no sugar added mean anyway? Added to what? The sugar that was already there? Or was it the caffeine? Although I thought freezing chocolate into ice decaffeinated it.

No matter. I was up.

You know that moment when you’re almost asleep, but not quite there? You start having thoughts that are half reality and half fantasy? You’re drifting into oblivion, and your body and mind are totally relaxed?

Yeah, that never happened.

Instead I went into that routine where you turn off the lights, your head hits the pillow, and you can finally doze. Quiet, calm, and serenity wash over you. You’re drifting away. And then it hits you. You’re awake enough to do differential calculus. If only you knew how. Because that might be the only thing dull enough to put you to sleep.

That was me last night. And that’s when the bargaining began. Okay, I’ll wait fifteen minutes. If I’m not asleep by then, I’ll turn on the TV and watch something.

Two hours later, halfway through Season 2 of Frasier, I needed a new plan. But not before I got up and did a walk through the house to make sure everything was locked. And checked that the stove top knobs were fully turned off to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. And investigated that weird ticking sound that was coming from the basement. Should I walk down to check? Will the movement spark an explosion?

I was deep into the abyss.

By 3 am, I had finally accomplished something. Not one to waste time, I’d been taking an inventory. Body part by body part, I’d imagined each potential disease that could be lurking inside me. Each virus that could be brewing. Each bacteria that could be growing. But I used my wakeful time well. With a Post-it note stuck to my laptop, listing phone numbers of various specialists, my hypochondria was now under control. Medical catastrophe had been averted. I was healthy as a horse, and I was ready for bed.

Until Charlie started to scratch. And scratch. And scratch. What can I say? The dog’s got anxiety. Can you blame her? She’s my age in dog years, single, unemployed, and sleeps on a chair. Who wouldn’t be stressed? I had no choice but to act. Two doggie Xanax stuffed in a slice of turkey later, and Charlie was good to go.

And so was I.

Lights out. Pillow fluffed. Time to sleep.

But not before I grabbed a little snack.



A Love Like No Other

I have three amazing daughters. And I love them all. I figured I should start with a disclaimer.

I also have four terrific sons. And, of course, I love them too. The only difference is they don’t blame me.

I know the question running through your mind. Blame you for what, you want to know. If you had daughters over the age of twelve, you wouldn’t need to ask.

The mother-daughter relationship is a beautiful thing. It’s an insane thing. It’s an incomprehensible thing. Our daughters start out adoring us. They want to be like us. They try on our clothing. They ask to go to work with us. And then they grow up.

And they keep growing up. That’s when it becomes our fault. What’s it? Seriously? You have to ask? 

It is everything.


My daughters are adults. So they’re completely independent. It’s so great. I no longer have to worry about them. Ha! As mothers, we never stop worrying. The only problem is there’s a catch. The older the daughters, the better actors we need to be. Because if we show concern, it means we don’t trust them. We doubt them. We’re questioning them. And that, my friend, is not allowed.

My daughters and I have an arrangement. If they want my advice, they’ll ask for it. And I’ll happily give it to them. And they’ll tell me why I’m wrong. It’s not that they don’t think I’m smart. I’m just from another generation. They like to remind me of that. As often as possible. Mom, things are different now. It’s not like when you were young. You just don’t get it.

Sometimes my daughters go through a rough patch. Maybe it’s a relationship thing. Maybe not. Don’t ask me to talk about it. I respect the boundaries! If I sense that my daughters are unhappy in love, I don’t butt in. I don’t interfere. Swipe left, swipe right, sext, don’t sext, I’m down. Whatever they need. I’m just here for support.

Work can be stressful for them at times. Resumes, interviews, reviews, oh my! Once in a while, I ask them questions. Not a great idea. How’s the big project coming? You couldn’t possibly understand. Have you sent out any resumes? Stop harassing me! Did you get the raise? Do you care about anything but money?

Seriously though, I adore my girls. We argue, we make up. We criticize, we compliment. We make each other cry, we make each other laugh. If things don’t go well, it’s usually my fault. At least that’s what they think. And I’d never correct them.

Most of the time, it’s all good with the girls. And when things get messy, we give each other space. That leaves me with plenty of free time. To call my mother and apologize.