Thursday, April 16, 2009

One of my Young Adult literature students, Katie Allen, went to listen to Laurie Halse Anderson talk about her new book, Wintergirls and had her picture taken with Anderson. I've not read this searing YA novel that came out in March, about the impact of anorexia on both the sufferer and the ones who love her, but it is on my "gotta read" list. I haven't read one of Laurie's books that I haven't loved. If it is as heart wrenching as Speak (and the reviews indicate it is) it will be one you will not forget. The latest issue of VOYA has a poem that Anderson wrote, the text of which is primarily taken from letters she has received from teen readers of Speak. This edgy YA novel is about an incoming freshman, raped at an end of the summer party, who is so traumatized by the rape and by being ostracizing by the other students, that she does not talk until circumstances force her to speak out.
The other picture is of the autograph on Katie's copy of Twisted I totally agree - librarians are angels. :-) This YA novel about Kyle, a teen who is just a body in the mass of teens in his high school - a social nobody. That is, until he is caught spray painting graffiti on the walls of the school. After a summer in the sun doing community service, getting tanned and buff, he becomes the bad boy the girls find irresistible, including the daughter of his father's boss. Getting involved with her is a bad idea and when half clothed photographs of her end up on the Internet everyone assumes Kyle is the one who posted them. Kyle would like to go back to being the invisible one in the high school social scene but it is too late now.

I wish Spring would decide to stay instead of making short visits and then leaving us with winter weather. Poor Sophie - she is now a short haired cat, but the vet left her with a long ruff around her neck and her tail long. I think she looks cute, but she is quite mortified. Downside of getting rid of her mass of shedding fur - she is more susceptible to this cold weather. I left her out once and she started sneezing and had a runny nose. She is still quite irritated with me about both the new "do" and not being able to go outside. If it would warm up I'd let her out but BRRRR!! If we get the house sold and move to the Miami area she will be a happy kitty again, chasing geckos like she did in the islands.

I hope it warms up this weekend as Steve's older brother and wife arrive for a short visit and, of course, we are headed to the horse races at Keeneland. I did great on opening day - well, for the first 5 races, then Steve told the guy behind the betting window that I was going to lose the next race. He jinxed me - not only did I lose that race, I lost every single one from there on out. Good thing I only do $2 bets. Hopefully we'll have better luck this weekend. I have picked my favorite jockey Kent Desormeaux. I learned the hard way not to bet against a horse he is racing. He's good! I just hope I don't have to be bundled up in my winter coat, two sweaters, a hat, scarf, gloves, etc. as I was on opening day of the races.
Speaking of bundled up, I laughed out loud at the picture of bundled up children building an ice sculpture dog in Alta Norway in 2001 in Ayana Lowe's Come and Play: Children of Our World Having Fun . The child who picked this picture to write about in Lowe's multicultural class named the "word riff," (what Lowe calls the short poems that accompany pictures of children at play around the world) Blue Night. I felt like a knew these kids, all bundled up and wearing fur hats - hats I had seen kids my own age wearing while growing up in Upper Michigan as well as on kids playing with my own children in Alaska. What photograph will you connect with?
April is poetry month (you can find cool things do with your students at: and this collection of short poems written by children in response to photographs of children at play around the world is a great place to start celebrating poetry month. Share this cool book of photographs and poetry with children and adults alike. The photographs are from the Magnum Photos collection. Check it out at Oh could I spend a lot of time just exploring this site. The main page currently has a photograph slide show of various photographs depicting springtime. Come and Play is a visual feast that both children and adults will devour over and over again as they "spy" on children at play. What "word riff" would I write about the little Norwegian kids - hmmmm - something to think about. Perhaps I'll write a "word riff" or two of my own to celebrate poetry month.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Well, the for sale sign is up in the front yard. The new realty company, a couple who work together, were here to take pics and for us to sign papers. One step closer to our move to Florida. With today being one of my worse fibro days in a long time the warm moist weather of southern Florida sounds better and better. Even though I could barely move this morning I got up and helped Steve pick up and clean. By the time they left I was shivering with the chills. My darling Steve went and got us our regular Steak & Shake burgers and brought them home and ate lunch with me while I sat in my fuzzy winter bathrobe. He went off to the gym and I took a nap. It's going to be a do a bit of work from bed and nap when needed kind of day. I've been really pushing myself since the surgery in February - I should know better but no one but me knows what to do with my books and I brought home a car full when I moved out of my ECU office. So, as I sit here trying to join the world of the totally awake, I'm watching one of my favorite movies - The Last of the Dogmen with Barbara Hershey and Tom Berenger. Good description of it at: Puts Dances with Wolves to shame for wonderful Indian adventure movies and one of Berenger's best.

My YA book for today is Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia. It is not my favorite of hers - that would be Every Time a Rainbow Dies in which quiet sixteen-year-old Thulani, whose mother has died and is not living up to his older brother's expectations, comes to the rescue of a young woman who is raped and left battered in an alley but she berates him rather than being thankful. Thulani is fascinated by her reaction and works his way into her life. This is a beautiful, edgy and sometimes harsh urban novel for older teens. It is not one you will forget. Jumped is also set in an urban environment, but addresses the brutality of girl on girl violence. The central figures are three high school girls - a basketball player with an attitude, an artistic pretty girl who thinks the world's, at least all the boys', eyes are on her, and Leticia who spends more time telling her friend on the phone about what is happening around her than living her own life, including doing the right thing. When ditsy Trina gets in the way of angry Dominque, who has been kicked off the team for bad grades, Leticia hears Dominque brag to her friends that Trina is going to get tromped after school. Even with her friend on the phone begging her to tell the school security guard what she heard, Leticia doesn't. She just watches and Trina pays the price. It's much easier not to get involved, but can you live with the results of not standing up for an innocent who has no idea she is about to get jumped? Williams-Garcia raises many questions in this edgy YA novel of the harshness of the urban high school environment from the perspective of three distinctly African American teenage girls.

Remember the optical illusion that when you first look at it what appears are facial profiles but upon another look - it is a vase? In a similar vein, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld offer up a visual delight with a touch of humor in Duck! Rabbit While doing a school visit together Lichtenheld drew the duckrabbit figure and the kids loved it. So did Rosenthal and she insisted it could be the basis for a book. Sure enough, the simple but irresistible picture of what looks like a rabbit with ears laid back or a duck with an open bill that the illustrator had seen in a college course called Zen and Freud and stayed with him since is now an absolutely addictive children's (well, all ages as I am certainly not a child, though my inner child is very alive and well) picture books. How fun read and discuss whether the illustrations are of a is a duck opening his bill to eat a piece of bread, quacking, wading through the swamp, flying, getting a drink etc. or a rabbit eating a carrot, sniffing at something, hiding in the grass, or hopping away. And of course, they leave you with yet another illustration open for discussion as to what it is - a dinosaur or an anteater - or perhaps you see something else altogether. Such a simple, but absolutely incredible visual feast to behold and visit over and over again, no matte what your age. But, I can't wait to read this one with the grandkids.

Okay - I think I am clear headed enough to do some grading! I don't wish fibro fog on anyone - gets totally in the way of concentration and I've even typed words that have no connection whatsoever to what I was thinking, so clearly the fingers and the brain do not always work in conjunction of a bad fibro day!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The trees in our yard don't realize just how cold and nasty it is. Spring hasn't quite sprung for us yet but our little plum tree, really more like a scrub at this point, is glorious in its pink blooms and the lilacs bushes are sprouting leaves. Can't wait until they bloom - lilacs mean home. Picking lilacs with my dad was an annual event when I was a little girl - I can close my eyes and smell them. My father and I didn't have a very good relationship, well pretty much no relationship, after my mom died. But, as a little girl I thought the world revolved around him - at least mine did. For years purple was my favorite color, and it still is to a degree - but now it is deep purplish blue as the color blue has become an integral part of my life. I am becoming my mother without even trying and I am proud to see myself resembling the incredible woman my mom was - even down to her forgetfulness. Just about every place mat I have bought for both the dining room and kitchen table are shades of blue and I wake up every morning to Georgia O'Keefe's 1925 Petunia that looks like it has blueberries in the center. I didn't notice the resemblance to blueberries until very recently but it makes me smile as I think of mom busy picking wild blueberries.

But, lilacs will not bloom in Florida - they need a cold freeze to bloom. But, there are lilacs that bloom in Texas, Denton to be exact. White Lilacs, written by Carolyn Meyer in the mid 90's s a poignant YA novels for tweens about the prejudice of a small Texas town - comparing the life of young Rose Lee who lives in the all African American Freedomtown until the white folks run them out and create a park for the young women of Texas Woman's University - not called that yet in the 1920's. Yes, I remember this book in part because of the symbolism of the lilac blooming even in the worst of times, but also because I went to school at TWU. It is still in print, which says a lot about the quality and appeal of the novel.

Why did I mention lilacs won't bloom in Florida? We will be moving to FL if/when our home here in Lexington sells. We are in no hurry so I will surely get to see our lilacs bloom this summer. That's why we drove to the Miami area during Spring Break - to get some idea where we'd like to live. I can say it certainly will not be Miami proper. I thought the drivers in Dallas were nuts - they are old ladies in Buicks compared to the drivers on I95 in Miami. I laughed out loud at the below term from Urban Dictionary. Let's just say I wore the "passenger brake" out in the car! We will be looking a bit farther north or south where doing 75 mph isn't considered standing still.

March 26: Passenger Brake
The passenger brake is the nonexistent brake pedal located on the floor of the passenger (shotgun) side of the front seat of your car. It is used instinctively by the passenger when the driver is driving insanely too fast, and the car needs to come quickly to a stop, which may not seem very possible at that particular moment. It is sometimes used in conjunction with the OH SHIT handle by the passenger door.
Doris was using her passenger brake all the freaking way here. She's the one who made us late getting started from home by taking so long to get herself ready! I was just trying to make up some time getting through traffic...

My YA book for today is Lara M. Zeises' The Sweet Life of Stella Madison, a Delacorte title that will come out in July. Lara calls herself a foodie and her love of food is very evident in this delightful YA novel about the daughter of foodie parents have been separated for years, but are still very close. Stella's mother is the grounded one with the business sense whereas her father is the chef who closes his own restaurant down for a period each year to travel throughout Europe to savor new foods, but mostly new wines. Stella has worked at her mother's restaurant, the Open Kitchen, where guest chefs are "on stage" to cook for a loyal following as well as new converts. Stella is content in her relationship with boyfriend - sweet Max. That is until her mother hires a new intern who looks as good as he cooks! Stella's crush on Jeremy and his flirtatious behavior toward her is not helping matters any. Exactly how far do you have to go to consider it cheating on your boyfriend? Does taking Jeremy to dinner at your father's restaurant count? Does thinking about him way too much count? Does wanting him to kiss you count? Stella's BFF's tell her to get a grip, but Stella's hormones are not making it easy. To further complicate her life, Stella is offered a summer newspaper internship and her own column, The Sweet Life of Stella Madison, in which she writes about food, mostly as a restaurant critic. Stella is not a foodie like her parents - she'd just as soon stop at Burger King. But, with some help from the gorgeous Jeremy, Stella realizes she is not so unlike her parents. Many of the chapters begin with the evening menu at the Open Kitchen, which I am sure will make many readers' mouths water. I hate to admit it, but I skipped them after the first one - like reading a foreign language to me. Foodie I am not - hard to be when you don't' eat any diary and have recently also added soy to the "no-no" list. However, this non-foodie loves Stella and her antics at the Open Kitchen as well as dealing with two guys and two best friends and parents who may be falling in love, but not with each other. A delicious read to say the least!

I'll be teaching an Early Childhood Materials course this summer so I have been reading lots of board books and other fun books for little ones. The Bedtime Train by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Jamison Odone. stands out, not only for it's large size, but for its beauty. However, be careful using it with little ones prone to nightmares as there are growling bears, dinosaurs and alligators galore as a little boy and Brad, the train engineer who looks a lot like Dad, go on a rhyming night time ride. The illustrations compliment the text beautifully and are in muted colors so that even the growling bears are not so scary - especially when the little boy sits on the edge of his bed and sticks his tongue out at them. :-) With the wolves and cold, it reminds me a bit of The Polar Express by Van Allsburg but this has no holiday theme. The illustrations, especially the little boy, remind me more of Sendak's In the Night Kitchen with their dream like feel. And anyone who has read my blog knows this is an all time favorite of mine. Although some of the creatures are a bit creepy, this is the perfect storybook for the little boys who love trains. They'll be joining in on the "Chugga-chugga, toot-toot. Chugga-chugga, toot-toot." refrain. The illustrations are rich in detail and little ones will find new details each time their parents (especially dads) are asked to read it again and again. It doesn't have to bedtime to share this delightful book about a little boy and his ingenious ways to save the day, or I should say night, with gumballs. :-) Cowley has been awarded the New Zealand Commemorative Medal for her service to children's literature. This Front Street publication of what started out as a story in Highlights magazine comes alive through Odone's incredible art. There are pages I'd love proofs of to frame and put on my wall.

Okay, on the not so fun stuff - grading.