#IMWAYR – It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Picture books and poetry

 #IMWAYR is hosted by  Jen at Teach MentorTexts & Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders 

AndreaLoney tells the interesting and historically important story of the photographer James VanDerZee in Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee.  Born in small town Lenox, Massachusetts, James was artistically inclined but had difficulty expressing his ideas through drawing. When the only photographer in Lenox brought the only camera in town to take a family portrait of the VanDerZee family, James was captivated by the instrument and immediately began to save up for a camera of his own.

He taught  himself how to both take as well as develop photographs, practicing on his classmates and his family.  The call of Harlem, then in the midst of an exciting artistic and societal renaissance, eventually brought James to New York City, where he continued to hone his craft in a studio of his own.  Over the decades, James took thousands of pictures of middle class African Americans and their pride in the lives they were working hard to make.  These photographs, many years later, became the focus of an exhibition called “Harlem on My Mind” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a moving and important historical record.  Andrea Loney tells this meticulously researched story beautifully, and Keith Mallett’s vibrant paintings made this book visual treat, as well.

In Martí’s Song for Freedom , Emma Otheguy writes about the Cuban poet, revolutionary hero, and journalist José Martí.  Having witnessed the cruelties brought by Spain when they colonized Cuba as a young boy, Martí began writing poetry and thinking about ways in which he could use his words to fight for justice.  Exiled because of his activism, Martí travelled the world with his message about equality and Cuban independence, eventually settling in New York.  But his homesickness for his beloved homeland, and its continued fight for freedom brought him back home.  Martí was killed in the Battle of Two Rivers early in this new war for Cuban independence, and did not live to see it succeed, but his poetry and writings inspired his people then and continue to inspire all those who believe in freedom, equality, and justice.

I loved the way Emma Otheguy wove Martí’s verses into this story, and I loved Beatriz Vidal’s stunning illustrations.  This will be a wonderful addition to my classroom library of picture books dedicated to social justice.

I found this anthology of interviews Bill Moyers conducted with poets presenting at the annual Mabel Dodge Festival of Poetry in New Jersey.  Moyers is an insightful and informed interviewer, and I learned so much from each of these conversations with some of my most  favorite poets – what the act of writing means to each, how they go about practicing their craft, and what they hope their words will inspire.  I especially loved the way each poet spoke about specific poems, analyzing their process and sharing thoughts about what brought these poems about.  This will be a fabulous book to draw from in the new school year, and to share with my students.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 11.14.03 AM.png

Mary Lee Hahn had blogged about Bob Raczka’s Lemonade some time ago, and I finally got around to reading it last week – what great fun!  The idea is, literally, squeezing poems from a single word, which is quite challenging, I must say (after having tried and failed multiple times).

I’m going to share this book with my kiddos at whichever point in our poetry year that calls for something completely different…something fun to take a swing at.  I can just imagine the classroom when I project Raczka’s word gymnastics up on our screen – I just know that after all the oohs and ahhs, my kiddos will want to take a crack at creating single word poems, too.

#IMWAYR – It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Refugee by Alan Gratz

IMWAYR 2015
   #IMWAYR is hosted by  Jen at Teach MentorTexts & Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders 
                             

Refugee by Alan Gratz was the most important book I’ve read this summer; its powerful story is timeless, mainly because we don’t seem to be able to heed its message or behave in ways which create unceasing wars that lead to waves of refugees seeking sanctuary from danger and devastation.

Here’s the jacket copy summary:

Three different kids.

One mission in common: ESCAPE.

Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…

All three young people will go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers–from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Joseph, Isabel and Mahmoud are all the same age when they must flee their homelands – twelve; they are at that stage of their lives when they are between the innocence and magical thinking of childhood, and a more circumspect and realistic understanding of the worlds they live in.  This kind of dual perspective lends their individual stories a moving poignancy, and makes a powerful impact – how do children who have seen their worlds fall apart in such cruel ways ever return to having hope, to believing in humanity?

Gratz does not hold back from describing what war and persecution looks like and feels like; he is especially careful to also include unexpected acts of kindness, as well as moments when people turn away from doing what little they can to assuage suffering. In other words, Refugee is realistic.  What makes it a difficult book to read, however, is the way we see history repeating itself time and time again, in every part of the world.

I was moved, too, by the way Gratz described the anguish and frustration of the refugee.  Here, for instance, Mahmoud ponders over the predicament of his family as they make one harrowing journey after another trying to find safety:

But Mahmoud wasn’t ready to give up.  He wanted life to be like it was before the war had come.  They couldn’t go back to Syria. Not now. Mahmoud knew that.  But there was no reason they couldn’t make a new life for themselves somewhere else.  Start over. Be happy again. And Mahmoud wanted to do whatever it took to make that happen. Or at least try.

But making something happen meant drawing attention. Being visible. And being invisible was so much easier.  It was useful too, like in Aleppo, or Serbia, or here in Hungary.  But sometimes it was just as useful to be visible, like in Turkey and Greece.  The reverse was true too, though: Being invisible had hurt them as much as being visible had.

Mahmoud frowned. And that was the real truth of it, wasn’t it? Whether you were visible or invisible, it was all about how other people reacted to you.  Good and bad things happened either way.  If you were invisible, the bad people couldn’t hurt you, that was true. But the good people couldn’t help you, either. If you stayed invisible here, did everything you were supposed to and never made waves, you would disappear from the eyes and minds of all the good people out there who could help you get your life back.

Of course, “the people” these three characters encounter across different time frames and continents, are the rest of us – the lucky ones who are not displaced, who live in security, whose lives are not upended by circumstances beyond our control. And, more often than not, we choose to “disappear”   the Mahmouds, Isabels and Josephs because it’s uncomfortable, or because choosing not to do something is easier than speaking up and doing the right thing.

The gift of this book is that we can share this story with our students, and open conversations about what it means to see people, to act on their behalf, to keep ourselves open to the idea that we all own a share of the suffering displaced people face, and we must change the way in which we respond.  Isabel’s grandfather says this:

“I see it now, Chabela. All of it. The past, the present, the future. All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better. For the bright promise of mañana.  But a funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change, Chabela: it didn’t. Because I didn’t change it.”

The idea of changing the world, of doing what we can to make it a better place, is one that is especially important now, in Trump’s America, where toxic messages of hate and indifference to suffering are reaching our kids through news every day.  We will be reading Refugee in my sixth grade class, and I look forward to many important discussions with my students – to change.

 

 

 

#cyberpd 2017: Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading #4

1159e-skitch-2012-06-102b11_22_092b252b0000-2

I was sad to have finished reading Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading.  I know that I will return to it many times to re-read chapters and sections of chapters, and to refresh my memory about the many brilliant ideas and words of wisdom she has to share, and I know that my students will reap the benefits of all I have learned…but I am sad all the same.  The experience of reading Vicki’s book felt very much like a conversation between us, as though she had pulled up a chair to my work table with a notebook filled with the essence of good teaching, and calmly shared what I know in my heart to be really true: teaching in the way Vicki directs us to “… creates opportunities for us to be big-picture thinkers, innovators, and problem solvers, too.  And by not tying us down to a script or a lesson plan that claims students will meet outcomes that are hard, if not impossible, to reach in a single sitting, it allows us to reclaim the status of professionals in a world that often sees us as the problem.” (pg. 216)

In Chapter 9, Vicki sheds some much needed clarity on two areas of non fiction reading that I have been wrestling with in my teaching life: how to help students arrive at an understanding of the important ideas the writer is trying to convey (the main ideas, in teacher lingo) and how to sift through the author’s own feelings about an idea (their bias).

“…readers don’t really find ideas in texts; they construct them from the details they notice…Readers of this kind of nonfiction (which includes magazine articles, investigative journalism, and many kinds of essays) have to actively draft and revise their thinking as they move through a text, adding on to their own ideas as they do…These cumulative understandings are, by their very nature, more deep and penetrating -and more nuanced and complex-than those focused on readily apparent features..” (pgs. 170, 171)

Rather than focusing on text structures and trying to use “box and bullets” to tease out the main idea and supporting details, Vicki asks us to consider ideas, sort and group these ideas, combine like ideas, consider the author’s perspective as well as one’s own reactions, in order to construct meaning.  This chart frames the work in such a problem solving approach, one that involves active engagement with the text as one reads through chunks, stops to consider and synthesize, before moving on to continue the process, which is, as Vicki points out, “the invisible thinking work involved in determining importance”:

FullSizeRender 49

I loved the inclusion, once again, for opportunities for low stakes writing through out this process, in addition to turn and talks, since it allows every student a chance to anchor their thinking and experience their reading thinking made visible.

My students often arrive at non fiction thinking that they are either going to learn all facts (i.e. the “truth) or all only what the author wants you to think of as facts (i.e. a biased point of view), to help them formulate a more nuanced stance, Vicki guides us to ask our kids to consider the following:

*the arrangement of facts

*parenthetical comments

*word choice

*the selective inclusion or omission of facts or points of view

*the structure of the piece, including how much space is given to different aspects of a topic or issue

*the last note struck by the ending  (pg.184)

Reading this section, I was struck by the way this nuanced work was reflected in a nonfiction book group I am taking part in at the moment.  The process Vicki describes is exactly what my group seems to be doing – sorting ideas, combining and connecting them, trying to synthesize information even as we transact and react to our book.  Our engagement in this process is exactly the sort of reading experience I wish for my own students to have.

Chapter 10 gets right to where I spend a good chunk of my teaching day – conferring as my students read their independent books.  What will my reading conferences look like/sound like in a problem based approach? is a question I’ve been asking myself in chapters one through 8, so I was delighted to find that exploring this is how Vicki chose to conclude her book.

Here, I was thrilled to see Vicki take on the teacher focused ideas that seem to prevail in many conferring methodologies, i.e. not coming to each conference with an agenda in advance or a pre-decided focus:

“In a problem based approach whose goal is meaning…you’ll want to hold off on deciding what to teach until you have a sense of how a student is navigating the problems he’s encountering and what meaning he’s making as he reads.”

Such a conference would look like this:

FullSizeRender 50

The repetitive presence of “research” is a key one in this process, for this acts to:

“shift the focus of a conference from what students are reading to how they are making meaning, which sends out the message that the thinking students are doing with the book is as important, if not more so, than the book itself…” (pg.198)

in a way that allows our kids a “new sense of competence and purpose”, because our students:

“need many opportunities to have their thinking listened to and validated before they begin to consider that they may, in fact, be insightful readers.” (pg. 210)

Conferring in this problem based way will require us to suspend some of the neatly packaged ways in which we sit down to confer with our students, it requires us to really listen and to be flexible in our thinking.  This work neither sounds easy, nor looks easy:

FullSizeRender 51

But, I see tremendous value in setting our students up to be problem solvers and deep thinkers, to read with the consciousness that they are actively constructing meaning which will “both illuminate their understanding of the world and lead to that ‘education of the heart’.”

My first read through of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading has given me a new framework for reading workshop in the new school year, now, for the second read through….

It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: The Ethan I Was Before & Walking With Miss Millie

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

I continue to make my way through my boxes of summer books, enjoying each of them for different reasons, but these were my standout books of last week, books I know my sixth graders will love to read and talk about:

Ali Standish has created so many wonderful characters in her debut book, The Ethan I Was Before, beginning with Ethan himself.  The “before” Ethan was a happy middle schooler whose life was all about the Red Sox, skate boarding, and hanging out with his best friend and partner in escapades, Kacey.  Then there was a terrible accident involving Kacey, and Ethan’s parents decided to leave their lives in Boston and move to Florida to live with his ornery grandfather.  This was supposed to be a new beginning for Ethan, but there is no getting way from his memories of Kacey for Ethan – or the guilt he feels for causing her accident.  Lonely and sad, he meets Coralee, who seems to have sad secrets of her own.  Finding an unexpected treasure leads them to adventures which help both of them discover what love, truth and friendship really mean.

I loved the compassion woven into each character in this book, and the way the adults step up to the needs of the children they are responsible for and do their best to be there for them.  We need books with kind adults, especially these day.

miss mille

Walking With Miss Millie is one of those lovely stories that unfolds gently and fills you with a quiet comfort.  Eleven year old Alice is not happy about having to move to a little town in Georgia so that her mother can take care of her grandmother, who seems to be getting more forgetful by the day.   Rainbow, Georgia seems backwards in every way compared to where she grew up in Ohio, especially when it comes to the issue of race – it’s the late 1960’s after all, and yet the people in this  town seem not to be making much progress.  Meeting Miss Lillie, her grandmother’s neighbor, and taking daily walks with her dog Clarence everyday, begins to open Alice’s eyes to many things: segregation, kindness, forgiveness, and sometimes having to accept that people are sometimes just who they are and not what you hope they can be.  I love the sense of humor  which Tamara Bundy weaves into the dialogue, too, which had me chuckling many times.

 

 

#cyberpd 2017: Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading #3

1159e-skitch-2012-06-102b11_22_092b252b0000-2

I’ll say this for Vicki Vinton, she makes me think, think, think, in spite of the fact that it’s summer and I should be giving my thinking self some time off!  Chapters 7 and 8 of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading tackle the issues of teaching readers how to problem solve with a focus on interpretation, and in the reading of non fiction.

At the moment, I am also deep into a brilliant work of adult fiction, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones having finished making my way through  the equally stunning Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.  Both books have involved putting into practice much of the work Vicki is asking us to do with our students, since they are incredibly complex and multi layered, both in terms of meaning as well as craft.  Luckily, I have two of the smartest and most patient book club members in my corner, with many opportunities to think out loud and problem solve my way through interpreting meaning and craft.  I was thinking this, especially, when I read this in Vicki’s book:

Once a reader has developed a coherent interpretation that takes into account all of a text, not just the selected parts, he can turn that into a thesis or claim and repurpose the very same details he used to build his interpretations as evidence to support his claim…

So, if we believe…that reading is a transactional act, with a text’s words only coming to life as they interact with a reader’s mind and heart, and that the students who leave our schools will need to know how to interpret many things, not just analyze them, we need to bring interpretation-and feelings-back into our classrooms.” (pgs 131, 133)

Interpretation, Vicki explains, results from noticing patterns the author establishes in the text, “patterns, which, once established, change and break”.  Our big questions lead us to notice patterns(what always seems to happen), which leads to hypotheses (maybe this is why), problem solving conversations, and then newer, richer, interpretations.

I was so appreciative of the way Vicki laid out the core principles, pedagogical reasoning, and classroom methodology in the way she is wont to do: i.e. in an organized step by step fashion.  It helps that this work builds on the work from her brilliant book with Dorothy Barnhouse, What Readers Really Do – the “what do I know/what do I wonder” lens through which to process meaning making in a text.  Having done this work, I could more easily see extending its scope in this way.

This chart is one I will be returning to again, for planning and for conferring, for it perfectly lays out the scenarios my kids most struggle with:

FullSizeRender 44

I loved that Vicki acknowledges the trickiness of this kind of problem-based approach to teaching – it goes counter to any neatly packaged, “here’s how to say this” minilesson, it invites a bit of on the spot thinking on our parts, as well as confusion.  But, it also leads to complex and rich thinking:

The secret is in the nature of the task itself.  It’s what, in mathematics, is called a rich task”, one that presents students with an open-ended problem…and is accessible to a wide range of students because it provides multiple points of entry and ways of solving – that is, it comes with built in differentiation… (pg. 127)

I used the students’ thinking as a model, not my own, and I took time to situate the work within a larger transferable process when I explained why and how writers use patterns…This means I teach into what students are doing, not teach them what to do-and given the complexity of reading for meaning, that rarely involves just one thing. (pg.128)

Chapter 8 got right to the heart of the matter for me when I read, “readers often read right through facts, unaware they don’t fully understand them” (Pg. 139), because…YES!!!!  I can’t remember how many times this is exactly what my sixth graders confront in their nonfiction reading lives.

…unlike fiction, expository nonfiction writers frequently give readers only one chance to catch something that has been stated indirectly. That’s because fiction unfolds…Expository nonfiction, on the other hand, often compartmentalizes information into subcategories or sections so readers have only one opportunity to figure out something that has been stated indirectly. (pg. 141)

This chart is immediately indispensable to  my teaching practices, for it anchors the issues that often arise for my students and allows me pathways through which to try to lead them to problem solve and figure out what they are confused about/what they understand:

FullSizeRender 45

As I made my way through Vicki’s process of explication, and the way this approach looked and sounded in a real classroom, I both appreciated the wisdom of this way of teaching, as well as the preparation it will take to be ready to choose a text, chunk it, set kids up to recognize problems, and how to figure it out in such a way as to be transferable when it occurs again (which it will). Here’s the reason it’s worth it:

I think we risk something even more profound when we turn a blind eye to students’ confusion as long as they’re able to cite evidence from a text: We encourage students to think school is a place where things don’t always make sense.  We also risk giving them a warped vision of what it means to succeed, especially in college, where they’ll be expected to do their own thinking and use their own words to explain things.

So, instead, I believe we need to open the door to confusion as wide as we possibly can so that we and our students can see how a mind works as it strives to understand. (pg.161)

After all, is that the kind of lasting work we hope to be doing in each and every one of our classrooms?

 

#cyberpd 2017: Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading #2

1159e-skitch-2012-06-102b11_22_092b252b0000-2

Chapter 5 in Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Readingour #cyberpd book for this summer, explains how a problem solving approach can help students navigate texts when comprehension is most likely to go awry – at the very beginning of a story, when readers have to figure out the who, where, where, and why with the least amount of information.  This is when many of my students tend to tend to get stuck without even knowing that they are stuck!  Vicki neatly summed up these “sticky” areas of comprehension, and the types of problem solving we need to help them figure out:

FullSizeRender 37.jpg

I loved the step by step examples of what this kind of teaching sounds like in a classroom, especially the tricky work looking for, planning out, and creating opportunities to show kids how to do this work for themselves, for, as Vicki points out:

Giving students opportunities to wrestle with problems provides them with concrete examples of what monitoring comprehension can look, sound, and feel like, and it lets them experience how thrilling it can be to figure things out on their own, which can help them become life long learners. (pg. 80)

The “Core Practice” sections were full of explicit advice and strategies, and I tagged the following as guide posts to my planning:

Choosing a text: “For a problem-based approach whose end goal is meaning, you’ll want to choose a text based on two criteria: Look for a text that’s relatively accessible at the word level but is complex because the writer conveys information and meaning indirectly and that presents the specific kinds of problems your students could use practice grappling with.”

This thinking will allow me to sift through the shared texts (both fiction and nonfiction) that I plan to use over the next teaching year.

Crafting a teaching point: “At the beginning of a problem solving session, you’ll want to offer an initial teaching point that sets students up for the thinking work you’ll be inviting them to do.”

I will be looking at each mini lesson as an invitation to think and problem solve – this shift in thinking will be something I will need to practice this summer, and learn from as I go along in the school year.

Offering choice: “while students may not have a choice in what they read and how they read it, they have an enormous amount of choice in how and what to think as they develop and share ideas and theories.”

I know this will mean some messy sessions – but so worthwhile aiming towards!

Considering scaffolds: To model or not: “a you-we-I-model. This reversal invites students to think individually first (you), then share their thinking with the class…(we), as the teacher (I) notices and names what students have done in a more generalized way so the teaching can be transferred and applied to other texts.

Making student thinking visible:Noticing and Naming: “Noticing and naming is…a form of feedback…It helps build students’ sense of agency and identity as readers, makes the invisible work of reading more visible, and by employing generalized language, turns one student’s thinking into a strategy that both he and others can use in other texts.

Both of these practices will take a concerted and intentional shift in the way I conduct mini lessons – Vicki’s charts are helpful guides to what reading issues may surface, but I also know that this shift depends on my own flexibility in terms of teaching thinking.  Listening carefully, and looking for the specifics of how students have problem solved so that I can name the way in which the reading thinking can be made visible to all students for future reading, will be the order of the day and what I need to prepare for.

My two big take aways from Chapter 6 were these:

Low stakes writing prompts which “can open the door for students to take risks and discover insights…”.  We do lots of turn and talks in my classroom, but I don’t believe we do enough of these “writing about our reading thinking” when we meet to share a text and share our ideas.   I can definitely see how this practice can set in motion the “contagion of thinking” that Vicki writes about – and that would be wonderful.

Bringing in the author: “Making students aware there’s a writer behind the scenes calling all the shots-and that their job, as readers, is to consider why she made the choices she did – helps students understand and internalize the concept that writers choose details purposefully to convey whatever aspect of people and life that they’re exploring through the story.”

This is something to aim for in a more consistent way in my own classroom. I think my students have this notion that writers just tell the story they are in the midst of reading, without giving much thought to the “why” of the way the story is told.  This kind of intentional stopping to think about the craft will help them deepen their thinking about the story in reading workshop, as well as enlighten their writing workshop thinking.

Looking forward to learning more as I read Chapters 7 and 8 for our next #cyberPD “meeting”!

It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: The Goldfish Boy, Hello Universe & Lucky Broken Girl

IMWAYR 2015.png

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

I read three very different middle grade books last week with two things in common: gifted authors and a common message of carrying compassion with us as we make our way through the smallest of actions and tasks – kindness matters.

goldfish boy.jpeg

Lisa Thompson’s debut novel, The Goldfish Boy , is a hard-to-put down mystery with a twist: there is one mystery to be solved in the disappearance of a neighbor’s little grandson, and there is another mystery to be solved within the main character (and chief detective) himself, twelve year old Matthew.

Ever since his baby brother’s death, Matthew just cannot seem to get his hands or his room clean enough – germs are everywhere, no matter how much he washes and scrubs, and things have reached a point where Matthew can’t leave his house…or his room.  The big front facing window of his house, and his own back yard facing room, give Matthew great vantage points from which to survey the goings on in his cul de sac, though, and Matthew keeps track of his neighbor’s movements with careful and detailed notes: time, place, etc. all duly noted.  For their part, his neighbors (a wonderful cast of characters, each of whom are interesting and well crafted) see the pale boy who seems to wear cleaning gloves all the time and watches them furtively through his windows, as very, very, odd.  And rather sad, too.

Needless to say, Matthew’s parents are terribly concerned and are determined to help. Just as he begins to see a specialist, the neighbor’s grandson vanishes, and Matthew now has another concern to worry and obsess about.  His notebook and his noticings may finally be put to good use!

Lisa Storm is able to get into Matthew’s OCD mindset with great sensitivity and honesty. You feel Matthew’s discomfort with his compulsions, his struggle to try to understand why his mind is telling him to do things that he also knows he somehow ought not to do.  I love the fact that his parents, although troubled and exasperated, love their son and make it clear that they want to help him.  The Goldfish Boy is just a beautiful story – one that helps many of us understand what it’s like to be OCD, even as we read on to see how an engaging mystery is solved.

hello universe.jpg

The main action in  Hello, Universe takes place in the course of just one day, but Erin Entrada Kelly manages to weave a deeply moving portrait of the messiness, neediness and unpredictability that is being in middle school and trying to figure out who you are and how to fit in, when it seems as though you don’t fit in at all.

Here’s the jacket copy:

Virgil Salinas is shy and misunderstood.

Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn.

Kaori Tanaka tells fortunes and reads the stars.

Chet “the Bull” Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood.

They aren’t friends, they don’t go to the same school. But when Chet pulls an unthinkable prank on Virgil and Virgil’s pet guinea pig, Gulliver, the lives of these four middle schooler collide in surprising and unexpected ways.

There are a lot of funny parts in Hello, Universe, but also parts that will bring a lump to your throat.  Virgil, for instance, has been nicknamed “Turtle” by his family, because he is so shy.  Every time he hears this nickname, Turtle wishes he could say out loud what he feels out loud inside:

Don’t call me that.

It makes me feel like I’m six years old.

It makes me feel like a loser.

Erin Entrada Kelly has created a lovely story with characters that stay with you longer after you have finished reading.

lucky.png

Ruth Behar’s Lucky Broken Girl may well be my favorite book of the summer – it’s just one of those wise books that breaks your heart even as it heals.

Ruthie Mizrahi is a trying to adjust to her new home in America.  She and her family have left Castro’s Cuba for the new life of promise that her father dreams of, even though he mother pines away for all they have left behind: their extended family, their traditional ways, and the warmth of being surrounded by the familiar and the well loved.  Ruthie, though, is looking forward to new go go boots, new songs to learn, and being the neighborhood’s hop-scotch queen.

Just when it seems as though things are falling into place, a terrible car accident leaves Ruthie in a full body cast for a year, uncertain about ever being able to walk again. Through this experience she learns about patience, generosity and small acts of kindness and friendship that can transform hopeless and helpless days.

In the afterword, Ruth Behar writes that Lucky Broken Girl was her story – the story she “was supposed to forget”, because the experience had been so traumatic:

All those who have been wounded know what I mean.  Maybe all who have been wounded know what I mean.  Maybe all who’ve been wounded are told, as I was, “It could have been worse.”  In other words don’t ask for too much sympathy.  I remember feeling as a child that it was wrong to talk about my pain. Wrong to feel any pain.  I buried the pain inside, where only I could feel it piercing me…I don’t anyone wait that long. Pain is Pain. Speak up. Tell your story.

Ruthie’s story speaks to all adults who have been broken in one way or another, and had to somehow make our journeys to a better place; but Ruthie’s story also speaks to children who might be experiencing brokenness in one way or another, and trying to find a way out.  Ruthie’s story is one of healing and hope – I absolutely loved it.