Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Testify

I have to admit I am a bit ashamed. It  appears it takes very little to throw me off my self-imposed scheduled deadlines.  Until this past week I had been doing quite well with my Monday and Friday publishing dates. But add a little setback to my injury; mix in a few days of  work-related bureaucracy that could make me cry; and top it off with the return of two children and a few truckloads of belongings, and my routine has taken a hiatus for a week. Time to get back on track.

In anticipation of  The Ontario Library Association's (OLA) Forest of Reading Program, I started out making book trailers for the Red Maple-nominated titles for 2013. When I first introduced the titles to my grades 7 and 8 students, I showed them the trailer for Valerie Sherrard's Testify that I had created. I am happy that I achieved my goal of grabbing their interest with this short trailer that doesn't really give away any of the plot, but I was totally surprised by the reaction I received to the technological and creative aspect of trailer-making. Once they heard that this was something that I had made the students were so enchanted by the idea of designing their own book trailers. Immediately I had hands up asking if I would teach them how to make their own trailers. What was equally inspiring was that it wasn`t just the typical students that I expected to be excited by this project. I found that creating book trailers is a really good way to reach out to reluctant readers. There is no denying that the activity appeals to the creative side of many individuals. The fact that it requires students to read the book initially may just be the hook that someone needs!

Animoto makes it very simple. I was able to get a free educational account, and using g-mail I set up numbered profiles for each student that are linked to my log-in account. Step-by-step procedures are easily found on the Animoto website.

What I appreciate about Testify is that it is a quick high-interest read with a plot line that is edgy enough to score high on the cool factor. It should appeal to students with a lower reading level without being juvenile in any sense at all. The book jacket itself, combined with the short length (128 p.) will be very attractive to reluctant readers. Intermediate students will be able to relate to the girl cliques and the manipulation that often occurs by the "queen" of these groups. The issue of needing to belong in a peer group is also dominant in this story. Although I can see both boys and girls reading Testify, it should mostly attract girl readers in grades 7-9.


Sherrard, Valerie. Testify. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2011. 128 p.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Audience: YA (grade 7+)

Watch my trailer here:  Testify Book Trailer

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Road Trip


"Wherever you go, go with all your heart."
Confucius
 
 
 
We love road trips in our family. Long ones. Short ones. Carefully planned ones. Spontaneous ones. I'm a life-long learner. What can I say? There's a lot of learning to be done on the road. And not just outside the car.
 
Now in all fairness our kids really didn't stand a chance. They grew up a two-hour drive from our extended families. And since, as Mr. Fun liked to joke, the highway only ran in one direction - the direction that we happened to be travelling, Duaghter1, Daughter2, and OnlySon were born travellers. They were just getting comfortable at the two-hour mark! We had friends who seemed to be waiting for some magical age to introduce their children to car travel. We didn't get it.To us it was like church - get them used to it right from the beginning.
 
Every family that hits the road has their own style and their own way of doing things. I am just so thankful that we got a head start on road trips. We hit the road long before the era of electronic pacifiers. No DVD. No GPS. No XM. I wouldn't trade it for the world. There are definitely times on the road when everyone wants to just chill, but there is something so sad about passing a car that has these adorable little creatures sitting in the back seat each plugged into their own world; staring vacantly at a screen. I want to scream, "You're missing out on so much!" Sure, at kilometre 460 you get the nattering. By 2:00 pm one sibling really needs to sit by the other window now because the sun is coming in on their side. The younger sibling keeps touching the older one. Sometime just after you've stopped for a bathroom break, someone else decides they have to go now - oh wait! That would be me. And of course you are going to hear "Are we there yet?" Sometimes the words of Winston Churchill ring in your ears - "When you are going through hell, just keep going," 
 
Funny though,  I can't remember the specifics of any of these similar meltdowns. I know they occurred, but like childbirth, the pain has disappeared. I do, however, remember with tremendous clarity the awesome, funny, tender, and sweet memories of our car trips.With everyone gathered together in the small space of a vehicle it is the perfect opportunity to connect as a family. We have had some wonderful engaging conversations while travelling. Well, except for the trips we took with our van. You see, there was just too much space in that thing and the acoustics were brutal. Whoever was sitting in the far back (usually Daughter2) had a difficult time hearing what was said up front. Most of the time this was fine with Daughter2 which at this period in her life is why she probably liked it back there. But once in awhile she would want to participate. The trouble was that she could only hear snippets of conversations and would totally misunderstand what was being said. This led to some hilarious questions and comments from way back there. We still bring them up today. 
 
 
Always fans of the Tailgate
Vermont 1997


As enjoyable as road trips with young children are, a few years ago we discovered something even better - road trips with your adult or young adult children. Pure travel bliss. It's all the great things about a road trip without any of the extra-curriculars. Perhaps it's something like spring fever though. You have to go through real winter to fully appreciate it. Mr. Fun and OnlySon recently returned from a golf trip to Myrtle Beach. My 18-year old son was quite proud of his "sub-four." No, he didn't run a mile in under four minutes. On the road he was able to complete a full round of Alphabet Bingo in under four minutes! He was taught well.

Last fall we travelled with Daughter1 to Philadelphia for the Rock 'n Roll Half-Marathon. She was reuniting with a friend she had met on her travels and was going to spend a long weekend with him and run the race on Sunday. We had such an awesome time in Philly that we jumped at the chance to go with her for a marathon at the end of April. I went into planning mode and made arrangements for a Pennsylvania Road Trip. Can't wait. So excited. Until this back injury. Now it appears that I will have to back out and send Mr. Fun and Daughter1 with directions and a jam-packed itinerary. I will definitely miss the sites and tours I had planned, but most importantly I will miss watching and cheering her on as she crosses the finish line after 42.2 kilometres. I am sure that this marathon will have special meaning after the events of the past week. The bond that runners normally share will be strengthened and each runner will have another reason to run. I wish I could be there at the Starting Line when the runners stand together and sing their national anthem before hitting the pavement. I wish I could be there at the Finish Line and see the euphoria that comes after months of training. I will be with her in spirit and happy in the knowledge that Mr. Fun is there and he sure knows how to do the supporting role.

Mr. Fun rocking the Canada hat in Philly

If you are looking for a fantastic picture book about road trips, see if you can get your hands on Are We There Yet? by Nancy Crystal and illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka (Scholastic Canada, 1991). This is such a fun little story. My children loved it, and anytime I read it to students they laugh like crazy. Dexter and his antics will be relateable to anyone who has travelled with children, and the illustrations are adorable.


 
"The journey not the arrival matters."
T.S. Eliot
 


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Something to Share

I was searching Goodreads this morning for an image to use in a future post. I didn't find the image, but I did come across this passage. I am going to break with my regular Monday and Friday post days and add a little something to read on a sunny spring Wednesday. Enjoy!

"The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but
shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more,
but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and
smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more
problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too
little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our
possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and
hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to
life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but
have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer
space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom,
but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but
accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more
computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we
communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small
character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but
broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway
morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything
from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the
showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can
bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share
this insight, or to just hit delete...

Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not
going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks
up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave
your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the
only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.

Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most
of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from
deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might
not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to
share the precious thoughts in your mind."
Bob Moorehead

Monday, April 15, 2013

"The Best Laid Plans ..."

".... the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry." Hmmm, something I can relate to. As I begin my fourth month with a debilitating back injury and watch plan after plan go awry, it's getting a little tougher to see my glass as half full. But thanks to a little sunshine today, a couple of unexpected phone calls, the impending homecoming of my university children, and the constant love and support of my stalwart rock and soul mate, I'm sure I'm going to make it to the other side.

I've been on a bit of a YA kick these past few weeks. Until lately, most YA novels seemed to be turning up as Dystopian or Fantasy works - not my favourite genres. My undergrad is in History and English, so it makes sense that my go-to genre is Historical Fiction.  I also enjoy Realistic Fiction which is where The Pull of Gravity belongs. It has a little bit of adventure in the form of a quest,  a little bit of romance, and a cast of quirky characters.

What I love about The Pull of Gravity is the way Gae Polisner nails the voice of a fourteen-year old boy in the character of Nick Gardner. I always have respect for an author who writes in the point-of-view of the opposite gender and gets it right. And in my opinion she gets it right with Nick. I think Ms. Poliser has boys herself. She must be a keen observer of their conversation, reactions, and nuances.

What I also like is the tie-in with John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and Robert Burns' poem To A Mouse. Lately I am noticing this nod to the classics as a trend. A.G.Howard's Splintered visits Alice's Wonderland; and Cinder by 





 









Friday, April 12, 2013

May B. a Good Story for a Good Night

 
 Who would have guessed the part that serendipity would play in my reading choices?
 

In anticipation of a major ice storm all schools were closed yesterday and I got a bonus day off! I was looking for new and interesting picture books at my public library when something led me into the Fiction stacks. I had Caroline Starr Rose's May B. on my To Read list, but I had a few reads I wanted to finish first. Regardless, there was a copy available so I picked it up.

As the day progressed, rain turned to ice. The wind picked up and the temperature started to fall. Power lines became heavily encrusted, and the lights began to flicker. Just as I was waiting for Kelly Clarkson to perform on Idol, the power went out completely.

Mr. Fun decided to use the battery power of a fully-charged laptop to catch a few episodes of an FX program that he is currently addicted to. I picked up May B. and by candlelight started to thumb through it. Enough of that! I got ready for bed and took May B. and a battery-operated lantern with me.

Maybe it was the thought that the thermostat wouldn't be working and we wouldn't have any heat. Perhaps it was the imagery of the Kansas plains during a blizzard. More than likely it was because I vividly remember the Wilder family living through The Long Winter in their Little House on the Prairie. But, as the storm raged outside my own window and I was bundled under layers of blankets, I was right there with May; trying to survive this pioneer adventure. What a way to get into a story!

Mavis Betterly (May) is a 12-year old girl living in 1870's Kansas. In order to contribute financially  she is sent out to work at the home of a new settler and his wife. Something happens and May is left to fend for herself through her own long winter. Anyone who has read the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series will feel right at home with this story. I was immediately returned to the wonderful evenings that I spent cuddled up with my daughters - reading the tales of Laura, Mary, Ma, and Pa. And we can't forget Almanzo!

May B. is a novel written in free verse. I can't even remember if I have read a novel written in this style, but I loved it. The first-person narrative seemed almost like stream-of-consciousness to me. May just opens her mouth and the thoughts come out. Ms. Starr Rose adds these little three, four, or five word punches that hit the reader with the urgency and full impact of what May and these early homesteaders would have endured. One such example is:
 
Stepping over
           piles of hay bundles,
       bits of loose grass,
            I reach into the barrel
 
 
     for the last apple.
 


Modern readers will appreciate May as a real character. She is independent, strong, and courageous; yet, she doesn't come without her flaws. She disagrees with her parents and to the reader she is vocal about this. She also struggles with a learning disability which causes her much angst. Through May's struggle we see her move toward an eventual resolution and a determination to overcome her problem.

I cannot wait to put this book in the hands of my students. I have some particular ones in mind that I know will love it as much as I did. I'm just not sure I can do anything about ordering an ice storm to enhance the reading experience.

 
 
Rose, Caroline Starr. May B. a novel. New York: Schwartz & Wade (Random House), 2012
 
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure
 
Audience: Grades 3-8


Monday, April 8, 2013

Bon Appétit!


What a delicious little morsel I found in my reading pile this week. I simply devoured Bon Appétit! The delicious life of Julia Child (OK, enough of the food puns). Written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, Bon Appétit! really was a pleasure to read.

As the title indicates it is a biography of the late cookbook author and television personality, Julia Child. All I can say is that they didn't have books like this when I was in school. My ten-year-old self would have been checking this book out of the library every week. Not only is it jam-packed with information - what one looks for in a non-fiction book, but it is told in such a manner that the spunky spirit of Julia literally jumps from the pages.

Some of the reviews I read had criticisms about the graphic novel format of the book and questioned whether children would have difficulty following the layout. In my experience the book is ideally suited for students in grades 4-7. This age group is quite adept at the format and I don't see it as a legitimate concern. In fact, it is this very format that makes the book fresh and appealing to a whole new generation of Julia fans. The gouache artwork is charming and perfect for the intended audience. I think each time I read Bon Appétit! I saw something that I had missed in earlier reads because there are so many details on each page. This is what I loved! I also loved the sprinkling (sorry, another food pun) of French words and phrases, with their translations appended, throughout the book.

I am constantly asked to provide biography recommendations when students are studying this particular genre. I love to put a story of a strong-minded individual, especially a woman, into the hands of a child. Of course there will always be the student who is interested only in the latest celebrity biography from the most recent book fair (are we done with Miley yet?) but there are many children who are looking for something more. I think this particular offering will fit the bill. I have to add that in many of the schools I have worked students have been heavy users of the 641.5 collection (cookbooks). I can see this book as being an additional choice for students who have already exhausted the cookbook selections. A copy of Julia's recipe for crepes is provided in the end material, as well as an excellent bibliography for older readers.

If you are looking for further information about Bon Appétit! or its author Jessie Hartland you can find it at the author's website.  She directs readers to the website pen & oink and I found a fascinating interview with her here. Next up for Ms. Hartland is a biography of Steve Jobs. I will certainly be looking forward to this. For the time being, I cannot wait to add Bon Appétit! to my library collection.



Hartland, Jessie. Bon Appétit! The delicious life of Julia Child. New York: Schwartz and Wade (Random House), 2012.

I was directed to Bon Appétit! by Shana Corey, who I talked about here. Thank you for opening my eyes to this find Shana.




Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Fever

The inspiration for this post came from a couch. Just a lonely old couch on the side of the road that I came across while out walking. There was no one sitting on the couch to explain how it came to be where it was but as I continued walking I imagined how the events played out. You see I was walking through a university campus in the downtown core of my city. I could envision a group of students dragging the couch from a lounge. Three, four, or five of them probably tried to squeeze onto the tattered cushions, and with favourite beverages in hand, they laughed raucously as they enjoyed a bit of the spring teaser we were being blessed with. Then, when classes or studying beckoned , the couch was abandoned for another group to enjoy or haul back to it's proper home.

I can imagine this because a) I was once a university student myself, and b) every year I, too,  succumb to that powerful malady known as "Spring Fever." It takes a little more for the symptoms to appear in me these days, as could be witnessed by my attire - long down parka, scarf, hat, and gloves. But in a nod to the season, my beautiful and functional BOG boots had been replaced by a pair of runners. I sense that back at my Alma mater the Concrete Beach was littered with under-dressed girls and guys catching every early-April ray they could find. It was still a little too chilly for any of that in my opinion, as the app on my phone attested (Sunny 8 degrees C.)

My walk progressed and I saw more evidence that the disease had struck some early casualties.  The boys below were absolutely adorable. They were about ten years old. I first saw them running around the square, coats discarded. They followed that up with rolling down the little embankment at the cenotaph and play-wrestling. It was like they were trying to do it all in this short window of fairly decent weather. As I looked over my shoulder before climbing the hill I saw them putting on this display for passing motorists. They would squeal in delight when they were rewarded with the honk of a car horn. It was a priceless exhibit of youthful joy and abandonment.


I know the full onslaught of Spring Fever is not far off. When it hits it is the most dizzy, delicious, and delectable feeling to be had. It throws you off balance; leaves you giddy and mesmerized. It's a little bit like falling in love, but it happens every year (maybe that does happen every year for some people.) Nothing else seems to matter. Just as long as you get outside. The sidewalks, parks, and patios are full of people. Suddenly you are reconnecting with the neighbours you haven't seen for the past few months. Everyone you meet has a smile on their face. You forget about that assignment that is due, the income tax not yet filed, or that errand you promised to run. It's spring and everything else can wait. We may have to endure a Canadian winter, but that's exactly why we get Spring Fever. What a gift!  It's the opportunity to shed the heaviness of our winter coats and renew ourselves.

I, for one, am waiting anxiously for that first "Patio Day" - the true sign of Spring Fever. I'm afraid the  temperature will have to be in the double digits. But I won't need a thermometer. Spring will be in the air and I won't be able to help but be sucked in by it. Can I buy you a drink?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Connections

I hope everyone enjoyed their long Easter weekend.

We had a jam-packed weekend around our house, beginning on Thursday afternoon when we picked up Daughter1, OnlySon, and a pile of dirty laundry from university. I cannot believe that the term will be over in four weeks. A Master's degree for Daughter1 and Year One of undergrad completed for OnlySon. I think it has been a great year for both of them. OnlySon has adjusted well, and I felt so much better knowing his big sister was just on the other side of campus. As we goofed around in his residence room, taking silly photos with Mr. Fun's new phone, it struck me that another milestone is passing by. Residence will be a memory at the end of the month. Even Daughter1 was getting a little sentimental about her life in rez and wishing she had got along with her roommate as well as OnlySon does with his.

Daughter2 had most of the weekend off from work. We were happy to get some eating and laughing time with her - two of her favourite activities. She was also getting a glimpse into what life will be like again at the end of the month. She openly lamented the fact that her only-child status will soon be over.

We attended a beautiful rendition of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday; followed by a moving Easter Vigil mass on Saturday evening. There is something very powerful about beginning the service in total darkness and watching the light come bit by bit as the Easter candle is lit and then spread to each parishioner one candle at a time.

I was able to get a few long walks in with Mr. Fun and with Daughter1. On one such walk with Daughter1 we got into a discussion about connections. Connections that are forged, broken, or renewed. I have been on an extended absence from work. As I have been at home with my injury I have become more sensitive to these connections. What has been so beneficial are the connections that I have made in the virtual world. For instance, last week I read an interview with author Shana Corey on Mr. Schu`s blog, Watch.Connect. Read. In the interview Ms. Corey spoke about playing "Olden Days" when she was a child. She gave a vivid description of this make-believe activity. She even spoke about getting "bonus points for anything calico." Well, she could have been describing my two girls acting out their pioneer fantasies! I was so touched by how similar we can be. Here was this woman, born in Savannah, Georgia and playing Little House on the Prairie just like a couple of girls in Smalltown, Ontario. I wrote an email to Daughter1 with a link to the interview. She responded with a beautiful recollection of those years and an affirmation that she and her sister were so fortunate because they had handmade calico dresses and bonnets. She even reminisced about the fictional town that they lived in and the fact that poor OnlySon was forced to be a little boy named August when he wasn't relegated to the role of  Little Stripes the cat.

At this point I was listing all of Ms. Corey's own books (they sound amazing - how do I not know her work?) as well as her recommendations from the interview, into my Goodreads list of books to read. Yes! More great books to read. I came across her email address and wrote a quick note thanking her for the memories that she brought back to me that day. Well, she emailed me back right away and said that I had reminded her of something she had forgotten about - finding her grandmother's crinoline and adding it to her costume box. Within an hour I had made a very meaningful connection with someone hours away from me. Technology at it's best.

That exact day, Daughter1 had a FaceTime interview with a celebrity of sorts in Russia. Daughter1 lived in Moscow for a year after completing her undergrad. She never actually met her in Moscow, but she followed a blog by an American woman, married to a Russian and living in Moscow for 20 years. She passed the link on to me and I followed Jennifer Eremeeva and her blog as well. Now what usually happens is that some of these people really become part of our circle of friends. We would talk about Jennifer as if she walked among us. Does anyone else do this? Mr. Fun was constantly asking who Jennifer was (or Jessica, or any of our other 'blog friends') when we used her name in conversation. On this day, Daughter1 was going to meet her - virtually I guess, but FaceTime is pretty close to the real thing. She was going to interview Jennifer as a source for a story she was working on for Journalism School. Daughter1said the interview went very well. Jennifer had even read the blog that Daughter1 had kept while in Moscow and was wondering how she was doing after leaving Russia. She said to say "hello" to me too! Again - a major connection.

The final connection I want to leave you with is a list that I was directed to from some of my Twitter friends. Molly's Great Girls Your Daughter Should Know is the most comprehensive list of positive female characters in literature I have seen in a long time. How many do you recognize? Would you add to this list? When I contacted Molly to ask permission to provide this link she seemed overwhelmed by the attention that her list had garnered. Again I felt another kindred spirit. Another woman with similar values as myself. Another connection made.

Before I get ready to head back to school tomorrow I have a heap of books to jump into. Thanks to my virtual connections.