#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

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

LovingVsVirginacover

The story of Mildred and Richard Loving has been very much in the news recently.  A critically acclaimed movie, a sensitively told picture book, podcasts, and the re-airing of documentaries are just some of the ways in which the Loving’s extraordinary battle to challenge Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws has been revisited and retold.

For those not familiar with the Loving’s story, here it is in a nutshell: Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving grew up in the same town, Central Point in Caroline County, Virginia. Things went awry when their friendship blossomed into love, for Richard was white and Mildred was black, and interracial marriage  was against the law in  Caroline County (anti-miscegenation laws, in fact, existed in 24 states at the time).  The young couple have to travel to Washington D.C. to be married, and are arrested immediately upon their return. It takes time in jail,  many years, and many court battles before the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Lovings, and they are allowed to live in peace and raise their children in the place they called home – Central Point, Virginia.

IMG_7334

Patricia Hruby Powell’s Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case is a welcome addition to this collection, especially because of the way in which it tells the  story: in verse, and through the voices of Mildred and Richard.  The two perspectives allow the reader to better understand how both Richard and Mildred processed the events as they unfolded, and gives us some insight into what they thought and how they felt. 

IMG_7333

I loved that the book included snippets of history (the Civil Rights movement, the Brown vs. Board of Education case) which allow us to put the Loving case in its historical context. Shadra Strickland’s delicate artwork adds so much to the experience of the book, as well:

IMG_7335

Our students take so many of the advances made by the Civil Rights movement for granted today, even as many of those advancements (voting rights, for instance) are under assault. Books like Loving vs. Virginia remind us of the sacrifices made by individuals like the Lovings for such rights and for progress, and they remind us that the fight for civil rights is an ongoing struggle in which we must all participate. Loving vs. Virginia is a must have book in middle and high school classrooms, it would make for an important readaloud, especially now.

#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: Words With Wings

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

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

Day dreamers have a special place in my teaching heart.  It is true that they need extra doses of reminding, and that one can never be sure if they are with us or hundreds of miles away even as their bodies are right there in our classroom.  And it is also true that sometimes the questions they ask and the answers they give bear little relevance to the material we happen to be studying at that very moment.  But the thoughts they share, they things they say and write, often take us to unusual places; daydreamers are special people.

In her verse novel Words With Wings, Nikki Grimes gives us Gabby –  a memorable daydreamer, who finds comfort and delight in words.

grimes 1

Gabby’s world comes apart when her parents divorce: her daydreaming, word-spinning father moves across town, and her practical, take-care-of-everything mother has little time for Gabby’s daydreaming ways.  As she adjusts to a new school, and a new home, and now a deep hole in her heart where her father used to be, Gabby finds that her daydreams protect her and give her both solace and hope:

FullSizeRender 12.jpg

But, buckling up for her word rides gets Gabby in trouble in school – it’s hard to pay attention to her teacher when her own thoughts beckon to magical places.  Her teacher is patient, to a point: “Dreams are great things, Gabby,”/he finally says…”Still, sometimes you have to/slide your daydreams/in a drawer/and let them wait until later…”.

So, Gabby tries to still her imagination and be the kind of student (and daughter) that everyone seems to prefer, even though stilling her imagination makes her feel sad and dull. She finds a daydreamer classmate who pins his flights of fancy down in drawings, and one day she puts her own words with wings down in writing.  Those words are snatched away by her teacher, but they become the key to how Gabby can keep her word dreams until later: he makes time every school day to daydream and write. Gabby’s notebook is soon “thick with daydreams”, with words taking flight:

IMG_7243.JPG

Words With Wings covers just a year in Gabby’s life, an important year. But Nikki Grimes’ verse is packed with  a spare power – you feel the full range of Gabby’s experiences and emotions.  And, of course, I loved that her teacher found the perfect way for Gabby to let her imagination take flight during the school day – he made time to dream and write!

 

#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: The Boy In The Black Suit

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

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

Yes, even though it’s the March Slice of Life Challenge and I am a writing maniac this month, I managed to read this fabulous book:

boy in the black suit

Jason Reynolds’ The Boy In The Black Suit is a brilliant book about coming to terms with death and grief.  Matt Miller begins eleventh grade weighed down with sorrow: his mother, the rock of  his young life, has just died, and his father seems to be drifting away in a grief cloud of his own.  Unmoored and feeling very alone, Matt is at first conflicted when he is offered a part time job at  the funeral home where his mother’s service had been held. Mr. Ray, its suave but kindly director takes Matt under his wing, stepping into the role of surrogate father when Matt’s own father stumbles into the street in a drunken stupor and is badly hurt.

At first, Matt is embarrassed about his new job and having to wear the black suit necessary for work to school every day.  Matt is secretly drawn to funerals – some deep and unknown part of his soul seems to need to see how others grieve, how others cope with their grief, since he himself is struggling so much with it.  Then he meets Lovey, who speaks at her grandmother’s funeral and seems to know the secret of how to handle grief and how to to be strong.  

Reynolds does a beautiful job of writing this story from Matt’s perspective in such a real way: he misses his mother, he mourns the way his father seems to be falling apart, he appreciates the stability and support of Mr. Ray, and he enjoys strategizing about flirting with Lovey.  He embodies all the deep feelings, confusions and contradictions of young adulthood.  I especially loved the character of Mr. Ray – the embodiment of that one adult who can make a difference at a crucial time in a young person’s life.  At one point early in the book, Mr. Ray senses that Matt is lost and searching for answers to his loss: why his mother? why now? how to keep going on?  Mr. Ray compares life to  the card game ‘I Declare War’: “I can lose and lose and lose and I don’t know why. But there’s nothing I can do but just keep flipping the cards. Eventually, I’ll win again. As long as you got cards to keep turning, you’re fine. Now, that’s life.”

This is definitely a book for 8th. grade and up – Matt is in high school, and some of the language and references in the story reflects that.  It is a hopeful story, one of the resilience of youth, and the healing power of community and love.

Here’s the author speaking about The Boy in the Black Suit:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#IMWAYR: Rainbow Weaver, Mama and Papa Have a Store & Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate

imwayr-2015-1-1

rainbow-weaver

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s glorious picture book Rainbow Weaver is a delightful read on two counts: the story is hopeful and uplifting, and Elisa Chavarri’s illustrations are a feast for the eyes.

rainbow-weaver2

Ixchel lives in the mountains of Guatemala, where Mayan women have woven beautiful fabrics for thousands of years.  This is something she would love to do, as well, but her busy mother has no thread to spare.  Undaunted, Ixchel tries a number of substitutes from blades of grass to  the wool sheep leave behind as they make their way through hilly pastures, but the results are dull and disappointing.  About to give up, Ixchel notices the multitude of plastic bags littering the pathways of her village; their vibrant colors spark a brainwave – she could cut these into the long strips she needs to weave!  Ixchel’s weaving sells at the market and she earns a doubly gratifying reward: she can help to pay for her school books AND she can help to tidy up her village.

I loved that each page had its Spanish translation, too – a great benefit for language learners.

Image result for mama and papa have a store

In the preface to her book Mama and Papa Have a Store, Amelia Lau Carling writes: “As a young couple in 1938 when World War II was beginning, my parents fled the Japanese invasion of their village of Nine Rivers on the lush Pearl River delta in Guangdong, China. Like other paisanos, countrymen from their own land, they settled in Spanish speaking Guatemala”.  Her picture book tells of one day in the life of this store and their family, both of which embrace the traditions of two cultures:

Image result for mama and papa have a store

The young narrator weaves a joyous story of the way many traditions come together to make their village life one of cultural acceptance and celebration.  Carling’s vivid illustrations add so much to this beautiful story of immigrants making a new life for themselves, adapting to their new homes, and seeking to preserve their cherished memories and ways of life.

Image result for shimmy shimmy shimmy like my sister kate

Nikki Giovanni’s Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate is a must-have book for every classroom library.  In it, Giovanni shares a selection  of poems by African Americans from the Harlem Renaissance to today.  What I loved about this book was the way Giovanni wrote about each poem to explain its context as well as its personal relevance and connection.  Here, for instance, is Robert Hayden’s poem :

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

 

which is illuminated and given such rich residence by what Nikki Giovanni has to say about it:

fullsizerender-20

I thank my good friend Julieanne Harmatz from the bottom of my heart for the gift of this book  – it will add so much to our classroom explorations of poetry.

#IMWAYR It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

imwayr-2015-1-1

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

Truth to tell, I was afraid to read Dan Gemeinhart’s new book Scar Island.  Both his previous books, The Honest Truth and Some Kind of Courage, were wonderful reads, and I feared that (perhaps) this third book would fail to live up expectations.  Thankfully, I was wrong.

22209-scarisland

Here’s the jacket copy:

Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, an ancient, crumbling fortress of gray stone rising up from the ocean. It is dark, damp, and dismal. And it is just the place Jonathan figures he deserves. Because Jonathan has done something terrible. And he’s willing to accept whatever punishment he has coming. Just as he’s getting used to his new situation, however, a freak accident leaves the troubled boys of Slabhenge without any adult supervision. Suddenly the kids are free, with an entire island to themselves. But freedom brings unexpected danger. And if Jonathan can’t come to terms with the sins of his past and lead his new friends to safety, then every boy on the island is doomed.

Gemeinhart is able to create Slabhenge in such vivid detail that it becomes another compelling character in a cast filled with compelling characters.  I was completely transported to this place, ghastly and troubling though it was, and I know that my sixth graders would be even more drawn to imagining its storm tossed walls and mysterious nooks and crannies.  One of the literary elements my students have focused on this year has been the way in which setting influences story, and Scar Island is the perfect book through which to explore this idea.

Jonathan’s “crime” and the way in which this is revealed makes for the heart of this story, Gemeinhart creates the kind of edge-of-your-seat tension that my sixth graders will love. But, Scar Island  is also a story about how to stand up to bullies, and how fear and peer pressure can get in the way of even the nicest kid’s best intentions.  Scar Island has a touch of Lord of the Flies, which is a good thing for our kids, they need to be reminded of these lessons time and time again.  

I have a long list of students clamoring for this book, and I know that each will say: Dan Gemeinhart has done it again! And  I wholeheartedly agree.

 

 

#IMWAYR It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading:Cloud and Wallfish & Counting Thyme

imwayr-2015-1-1

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.I

Last week was a great reading week, for I managed to squeeze in two middle grade books I had heard so much about.

cloud-and-wallfish

Anne Nesbet’s Cloud and Wallfish was one of those hard to put down books. For one thing, it is set in the East Germany of 1989, just as the Berlin Wall is about to come crashing down, which is an unusual and little written about time period in YA novels.  It is a time period rife with spies, double agents, and double speak – the reader is always on the edge of his seat wondering who is really who, and whether there is anyone at all worthy of trust (including one’s parents).  Here’s the jacket copy from the publisher’s website:

Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now “Jonah Brown”—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.

Slip behind the Iron Curtain into a world of smoke, secrets, and lies in this stunning novel where someone is always listening and nothing is as it seems.

Cloud and Wallfish is a thoughtful, complicated story, because living behind the Iron Curtain was a complicated affair: you could trust no one, not even your closest family.  Noah’s persistent search for answers, and Claudia’s need to believe in hope make for compelling reading; their parallel journeys take them to unexpected places, and leave the reader with important questions about what is happening in our country today as we sort through our own morass of “alternative facts” and “fake news”.

thyme

I so loved reading Melanie Conklin’s Counting Thyme, that I found myself deliberately slowing down my reading just so that I could prolong the pleasure of this story.  Here’s the jacket copy:

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Thyme is such an endearing character – she is all heart, which makes her deeply empathetic to her brother’s suffering inspite of the fact that his illness has upended and uprooted her entire young life.  But, Thyme must also work through all the issues a kid her age faces: making friends, fitting in, sorting through the “popular kids” and the “losers”, having crushes, and being embarrassed about having a crush.  Conklin is able to weave together the many threads of Thyme’s life to create a powerful story about the way a family must love each other and sacrifice for each other in difficult times.  As much as I loved Thyme, I also grew to have much affection for the other characters in the book – from the neighbor who had an illustrious career as a stage hand, to Thyme’s overwhelmed but supportive parents.  The only thing that made coming to the end of Counting Thyme bearable was the fact that I could pass it along to a student, and sit back to watch their pleasure in reading this marvelous book.

The other thing that has helped, of course, is that this book arrived the day I finished reading Counting Thyme

Related image

#IMWAYR It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: Some Writer & Witness

imwayr-2015-1-1

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

some-writer-1

Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer: The Story of E. B. White is one of those books you just want to carry around with you all the time, just so that you can have the pleasure of reading it over and over again, savoring the words and glorying in the artwork.  Here, for instance, is one page I return to time and time again:

some writer 2.jpg

What I love about that page (apart from the fact that it centers around one of my favorite passages from Charlotte’s Web) is what I love about this book as a whole – it is such a magical celebration of E.B. White’s life, work, and brilliant imagination.

Melissa Sweet tells the story of White’s life, tracing the arc of his boyhood through his years  at the New Yorker and to the writing years that gave us cherished books like Charlotte’s Web.  I loved learning how White worked through his ideas, and what inspired those ideas in the first place.  Sweet shares snippets from letters and journals, as well as photographs and sketches; these are exquisitely woven together with Sweet’s text and art work.

As a life long admirer of E.B.White, I’ve read his books (Here is New York is a personal favorite), letters (such fun!) and his short pieces and essays for The New Yorker.  I’ve loved his humor and his extraordinary ability to write profound truths in simple, direct ways. Sweet’s book allows young readers, also,  to appreciate the writerly life of one of their most beloved authors – it’s a window into his writing life, as well as the life he lived.

E.B. White loved the power of the written word and understood its craft, and Sweet’s book will be windows to the craft of writing for our students; I will be looking for ways to weave its pages into our writing workshops.

white quote.png

Here’s a wonderful interview with Melissa Sweet, in which she shares her thoughts about the creative process:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/496699113/496755024

I’ve been on the hunt for a historical fiction read aloud to open our genre study, which is no easy task – so many fabulous choices!  But, this year, I brought a different kind of focus to this hunt; I want our read aloud to connect to historical events that have a particular resonance to America today – race relations, social justice, and the search for truth in a time of hysterical falsehoods.   As I rummaged around in my classroom library, I found Karen Hesse’s Witness.  Re-reading it this weekend, I knew that I had found the book I was in search of.

witness.jpg

Here’s the synopsis from Scholastic’s site:

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 9.51.08 PM.png

Witness is a powerful story, and the beautifully crafted voices of each character tell the story with compelling nuance.  I was moved by the way in which this book, written in 2001, connects to conversations we are having today about race, prejudice, and standing up for the truth.  Witness reveals the best in us and the worst in us, it is a deftly told cautionary tale of how easy it is for good people to be swayed by evil, or to look away when evil comes, as it often does, in the guise of patriotism and religious fervor.  It is an important book to share and discuss with our students, especially now.