The National Book Award Project: The Finalists

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All the way back in June I started a project, spear-headed by Dr. Steven Bickmore, with a bunch of other educators: We read through all the National Book Award Finalists and Winners from the past twenty years. There were twenty of us–each assigned a year. I read the five books from 1996.

Each of us chose one book to move forward to the next “round”. We were then placed into brackets of five books and as a group we needed to choose which of those five would move to the final round.

The final round has four books. Our task was to read all four and vote for which one we think is the best of the best. I had already read Homeless Bird (2000 National Book Award Winner), but the next three were new to me.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers (2005 National Book Award Finalist)

As is typical of Myers, this book starts out right in the action with the funeral of a teenager who was shot in a drive-by shooting. Jesse and his friends, CJ and Rise, are forced yet again to consider how quickly life can be taken away. Rise makes the comment that he believes this is why you have to live every day as if it’s special. All three boys grapple with how to do this, but Rise seems to take it to an extreme that Jesse can’t agree with. As Jesse tries to decide to stick by Rise–his blood brother–or follow his own intuition, he sketches Rise and the rest of what they experience. It’s a very honest look at what being a teen in Harlem is probably like.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2012 National Book Award Winner)

Ten-year-old Hà, her three older brothers, and her mother are forced to leave Vietnam when the war reaches their home in Saigon in 1975. Hà has never met her father, who is MIA in the war–possibly somewhere in North Vietnam where communication has been cut off. The family journeys by ship to Alabama where they become refugees. Hà is forced to repeat the 4th grade even though she was at the top of her class in Vietnam because she doesn’t know English. What is most special about this book is that it is told in first-person verse covering a complete year: from Vietnamese New Year in 1975 to the same day in 1976.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014 National Book Award Winner)

Another book completely in verse, Jacqueline Woodson tells her autobiographical tale of growing up African American during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Her life is split between two homes: one in South Carolina with her maternal grandparents and one in New York City with her mother. Her poems seamlessly weave her life story together in a way that the reader can actually feel. It’s beautiful writing.

Of the four books, I really liked Homeless Bird and Autobiography of My Dead Brother but I loved Inside Out and Back Again and Brown Girl Dreaming. I also felt all four books would be appealing and accessible to my students (all 8th grade). They were all well-written, though I think the three I described here were a little more literaturey (yes, I just made that up) than Homeless Bird. Or maybe it’s that Homeless Bird is about a culture different than the author’s.

In the end, Woodson’s poetry did more than just tell a story; it created an experience; therefore, it got my vote as the best National Book Award Winner of all time.

Family Frenzy

Recently, Cortney and I participated in a marriage retreat of sorts through our church. One of the topics we talked about was family. We were asked to reflect on our family traditions growing up and whether or not we were super affectionate or close. Cortney and I had some great conversations and it did shred light on what we both bring to the marriage in terms of sharing and hugging whatnot.

While Cort and I were brought up in similar families–both middle class, Christian, three kids (one girl, two boys), and we are both the oldest–there were enough differences in traditions that we were able to blend them a bit for our own family.

I was trying to decide what family on TV we were most like, but honestly we have bits of many families. Let me see if I can break it down.

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I guess it’s not a shock to say I am an over-sharer. But what is interesting is that is not what my family was like growing up at all. In fact, I routinely made my mother blush and my father sputter with what I would say. Cortney is the exact opposite. After more than twenty years of knowing him, I am still finding out new things because he doesn’t bring stories or topics up until he feels like they apply with what is going on or what we are talking about. I am more of the “if I think it, I blurt it out” type.

I guess that would make our family part Bluth.

 

My Eddie also shares whatever he is thinking, but it’s usually more naive. I mean, he is only seven, after all. But he is just so sweet and trusting. He wants people to be happy and he truly believes the world is a good place. This would make our family a little Kimmy Schmidt too.

As I said before, Cortney is the strong silent type. But he knows how to get down and loves good music. He is also very handsome in a suit and totally smooth. So he brings a little Justin Timberlake to the family.

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My two Littles: Charlie and Alice love to shake their groove things. Ok, let’s be real: we all love to do that. We all love the Beatles. We all help each other out, and we all love a cute story line, so that makes us a little Beat Bugs too.

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Other shows you don’t want to miss: Paddington is now available and a totally cute family favorite. And of course, unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is available. According to Facebook, quite a few of you binged over Thanksgiving weekend. Good for you!

So what TV or movie family do you most identify with? Or is it a mix like us?

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Netflix provides my family with streaming service and a device to watch it on in exchange for posts about what we watch. All opinions are our own.

History told in First Woman

I’ve been quiet over here, but my head has been so very loud. I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about what is going on in our country right now, so that someday, when my words are gone, my children will still have my thoughts.

Last week started out so very exciting. I originally voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but since his loss to Hillary Clinton, I have been 100% on the HRC bandwagon. I’m not really going to go into the why behind that since this is not a persuasive essay and at this point, because she lost, it’s moot. I just liked her as a candidate and the bonus was that she is a woman.

I was so excited to vote for a woman. I didn’t really realize just how excited I was until I was standing in line to vote. The week was a busy one and it was only Tuesday: we had parent/teacher conferences for both Eddie and Charlie plus I had parent/teacher conferences at school. On top of that both Eddie and I were scheduled to get flu shots that week. It was busy. When I made my list of things to get done, voting happened to just be an item to do and then check off.

Until I got in that line. I walked up all smiles and filled out my little card with my name and address and hopped in line. It wasn’t a long line; I had maybe a 5-10 minute wait. As I slowly made my way to the table to get the actual ballot, I looked at the faces in line. I saw a mom with a little girl and something went funny in my throat. A huge lump formed and I struggled to keep the tears from falling.

I thought of my grandmothers who were born before women even had the right to vote.

I thought of the messy history of women’s suffrage and the racist white women who ended up getting us the right to vote in the first place.

I thought of how I wept when I voted for Barack Obama the first time, and how I had blamed it on the pregnancy hormones.

I thought of all the divisiveness that our country is going through with this election, and how I answered Eddie’s questions about who I would vote for by telling him I made my choices based on who I thought would help us be kinder, more unified, and more helpful.

I thought about the time a year earlier, when Eddie asked about presidents and Cortney told him there had never been a girl president before. Eddie’s response was, “WHAT!?! Well we need to vote for one! We need a girl president!”

I thought about all the times he corrected people when they used “girl” as a put-down by saying, “hey! Your mom is a girl! Your sister is a girl! Your grandma is a girl! Do you really think girls are bad? NO! My mom and sister and grandmas are AWESOME and SMART.”

I thought about all those things and the tears started to trickle down my cheeks. I tried to quickly brush them off, but I felt a hand on my arm. When I looked up, a young lady was smiling and nodding. “Me too,” she said. “Me. Too.”

I nodded and smiled. Then I took my ballot and went to the available booth.

I don’t always vote straight ticket, but I could have on this particular ballot. But I didn’t. I wanted to color in the bubble next to her name: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

After voting, I snapped a quick selfie, and went to Office Max, picked up Eddie, and then picked up the Littles just as planned. Then I went home and made us dinner, and helped with homework, and put kids to bed.

As I went to bed, I had a sinking feeling my candidate did not win.

But I hold tight to that feeling of seeing a woman (actually TWO) on the ballot, and knowing there is a long list of hope and possibility for our future.

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Since last week’s election, my hope has been severely tested. Every time I think I have it processed enough to write about it, more happens. I pledge to put it all down here though, because these are the stories that will someday be history. I want my children to have this when I don’t have the memories or words to tell them about it anymore.

Netflix for Spooky Spookertons

Halloween is, by far, NOT my most favorite holiday. If we didn’t have kids, Cortney and I would probably skip it all together.

I don’t like scary things. I don’t like dressing up. I don’t like handing out candy.

Of course our kids love all of these things, so we roll with it. I think Charlie would dress up in costumes every day of the year if we let him judging on how often he has worn his batman mask already this month. And candy? Forget about it. My kids try every trick in the book to get candy for every meal. (It doesn’t work. There is much sadness in the Nation).

As for scary things, Eddie loves it. Well, he doesn’t like truly freaky things, but spooky stuff is totally his jam.

Three days a week we get home about an hour before Cortney and The Littles, so Eddie can get on his Netflix profile and watch what he wants. The rule is that when Cortney gets home with The Littles, he has to turn on PBS because the shows he watches seem to me like they might be a little spooky for Charlie, and way too spooky for Alice.

Eddie is a true binge-watcher, so when he finds a show he watches ALL the episodes before moving on. His latest spooky binges have included Scooby Doo, any and all superhero things (which I get are not traditionally spooky, but I think they could be a little scary), Power Rangers (again, it’s not ghosts and vampires, but it’s got some pretty creepy monsters), and Monster High.

He’s also watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Curious George: A Boo Fest, and Hotel Transylvania 2 a dozen times each.

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I think he’s old enough now to watch ET, so we might have to do a mom and son movie night soon!

Alice and Charlie are just excited that season two of Beat Bugs is now available. Charlie just realized there are more episodes of Dinotrux. And Eddie found season three of The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show, another favorite around here.  I haven’t told him yet, but Eddie will also be jazzed that season one of Skylanders Academy will be available by the end of the month…because dragons.

As for this year’s costumes, I will be sharing pictures of those soon enough. Eddie, every the spooky spookerton, chose to be a skeleton again this year. Charlie chose a batman costume he found (hence the mask he’s been wearing for the past two weeks), and Alice is going as a lady bug…hopefully. I have the costume from a friend, but as we know, toddlers can be persnickety when it comes to actually wearing the costume. Here’s hoping!

Anyway, what spooky shows do your kids like to watch? Anything we should add to our list?

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This is not a sponsored post. I am part of the Netflix Stream Team and am provided with Netflix and a device to watch it on. All opinions are our own.

Reasons Being A Grown-up Stinks

I have been adding to this list for awhile now. It’s not that I don’t really love my life, but sometimes? Being a grown-up stinks. Bad.

  1. Paying bills
  2. Paying for insurance
  3. In general paying for things that are boring
  4. Not being able to respond to your child like you would if you were a child. Example: “Your FACE looks like a disgusting dinner.”
  5. facial hair
  6. body parts that just hurt because you’re getting older, not because you injured it doing some daring stunt like crowd surfing.
  7. Cleaning the bathroom that other people make gross. I’m looking at you, Charlie. AIM YOUR PEE.
  8. Doing other people’s laundry. Again, Charlie, I’m looking at you. WIPE YOUR BOOTY BETTER.
  9. Dusting.
  10. Wiping other people’s booties.
  11. Worrying about how long the grass is.
  12. Adult acne
  13. Being exhausted…by just being awake.
  14. Starting to sound like my parents. “I am not yelling; I am speaking sternly. You will know when I am yelling.”
  15. Realizing that behavior that you find incredibly annoying is exactly how you used to act when “you were that age.”
  16. Kidz Bop being part of my life.
  17. Paying over $100 every 6-8 weeks to cover grey hair and remove other hair.
  18. Cracking joints.
  19. Needing glasses.
  20. Understanding why Garfield hates Mondays.
  21. Slowed metabolism.
  22. Being in charge…all the dang time.
  23. the practice of herding cats…all day, every day.
  24. The lack of nap time.
  25. Being the bearer of bad news.
  26. Realizing everyone else is getting older too…
  27. people you love start dying.
  28. Having to explain hard stuff to innocent people.
  29. realizing that you have an unhealthy one-way relationship with coffee
  30. Having to let your kids win at games once in awhile.
  31. Watching the news.
  32. Being responsible.
  33. Being punctual.
  34. Picking up after other people.
  35. Making decisions.
  36. Caring about things that with letters and numbers as their names: 401K, 403b, LMNOP3 (ok that last one is not real, but whatever).
  37. Having to talk about budgets.
  38. Math.
  39. Spending all that money-you-don’t-have-but-wish-you-did-so-you-could-spend-on-fun-things on fixing a 30+ year old lawn mower’s steering.
  40. Knowing there is no quick fix, silver bullet, and maybe not even a happy ending.
  41. Saying the same thing over an over and feeling like you are talking to a wall. “Quit bothering your brother. Quit bothering your brother. QUIT BOTHERING YOUR BROTHER!”
  42. Having to follow through with consequences that leave you without fun.
  43. Seeing your childhood through “adult eyes.” That thing that was so big and amazing? It’s really just normal…and kind of run down.
  44. Being able to relate to Cathy and her reaction of “ACK!” to everything.
  45. mortgages.
  46. voting.
  47. Having to do social stuff when you don’t want to do social stuff, but it’s sort of required social stuff, so you do it anyway.
  48. bad beer.
  49. pregnancy scares…especially when you have been, um, fixed. And you’re of “advanced maternal age.”
  50. Getting AARP mailings…when you’re not even forty.

being a grown-up

I realize not everyone has the same experience as I do. Some people never have kids and are still jumping out of airplanes at ninety years old. That is not the life I chose for myself. This list is not meant to be a big fat downer on my life, either. I really do love my husband and kids and life, but seriously. Sometimes things stink. So I made a list. What would you add? Let’s vent, shall we?

Know Better, Do Better

Eddie, Charlie, and Alice,

By the time you are old enough to read these posts, you will already be fully aware of this: The school you attend where we live is very different than the school I commute to each morning to teach. At least at the time of my writing this they are very different.

Daddy and I grew up in your same school district. Back then it was even whiter than it is now, and I would argue that it is even more affluent now than it was then, although we weren’t doing so badly for ourselves then either. Living and going to school in such a district comes with lots of privilege.  Because the majority of you and your classmates come from homes with two parents, post-secondary education, and good careers (notice I didn’t say “jobs”), you all have the fortune of having resources like being read to, an adult home with you, a meal without thinking about where it comes from, a steady place to live, and so much more.

This is how I grew up too.

Grandpa and Grandma were not super wealthy by any means, just like your dad and I are not wealthy or part of the 1%. Your uncles and I were not the kids with the latest brands or the latest technology, but we definitely didn’t want for much. Just like you three.

In school we learned about slavery and segregation and how it was all over. We learned that it was done. In our super white community, in our school where I could count the number of kids of color on my hands, we were taught that segregation and racism were a thing of the past, thank Martin Luther King, Jr and Jesus. We were told “don’t say the “N” word,” and “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is.”

This is what we were taught at home too. Grandpa and Grandma grew up during segregation. They grew up with people who were overtly racist, but they learned better and they did better by teaching your uncles and me about it.

They knew better, so they did better.

Fast forward to me as a high school kid in my 98% lilly white affluent school. If someone from a different school that had more minority students than we had told me that some of our traditions or school spirit was racist, I would have told them to quit being so sensitive. We weren’t racist. We weren’t calling any teams the “n” word or burning crosses or using hateful language. We were just having fun.

I was the student who thought that “others” were trying to find racism and hate in innocent things. That because my intentions weren’t to hurt, then they were wrong to feel hurt.

I’ve lived a lot of life in the twenty years since I graduated from that school, and guess what. I know better now. I know better than to point at a person and say their feelings are wrong.

I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and my mind and ears open when others are saying that something makes them uncomfortable or fearful.

I’ve learned not to brush off someone else’s experience because it is not mine.

I’ve also learned that I can’t be quiet now that my eyes have been opened. Now that I know better, I have to also do better. I have to help others know better so they can do better.

Our extended family is filled with people of color. My students and their families and the staff I work with are filled with people of color. As someone who loves them I simply cannot stand silent if I see people continue with the same mindset I once had. I know better, I need to say something so they can too.

My dear children, it will be easy for you to shelter yourself in your privilege. To remain silent when a comments or actions don’t seem intentionally racist, but are. To shut your eyes to what is happening “out there” and let yourself believe it’s not right here too.

But your dad and I can’t let that happen. Racism in all it’s forms need to not just make you uncomfortable, but make you furious. If you hear someone put down a school district, like the one I teach in, you need to say something. If you witness a tradition in your school that seems like it might make your cousins uncomfortable, you need to say something. If you notice yourself having a judgment about someone and you realize it’s because of the way they look, you need to stop and readjust your thoughts.

You need to do better.

Because now you know better too.

Sluiter Cousins at Justice's Baptism

Sluiter Cousins at Justice’s Baptism

Disney and Netflix

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I have a confession: I love Disney. I do. I know I am not a typical “Disney Mom,” but some of my fondest memories of growing up involve Disney productions. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my kids are also drawn to anything associated with mouse ears too.

When I was in elementary school, VCRs were the new big technology thing, and my family didn’t have one. It’s a safe statement to say that my parents are not technology bandwagon jumpers. It is 2016 and they both only have flip phones. And my mom has one reluctantly–we had to give it to her for Christmas and switch their landline to it for her.

So in the 80’s the Riemersma family did not have a VCR of their own. However when my parents wanted to treat us to something special, we would go to the local rental shop and rent both a VCR and a few family-friendly (G-rated) videos.  Remember those little local video stores? Not the big box ones, but the little mom & pop ones? The one in our town was actually a repair shop that started renting videos and VCRs on the side. When you found a movie you wanted, you took the little circle tag off the hook in front of it and brought it to the shopkeeper. He would get it for you from the back and you would pay your rental fee.  They also sold microwave popcorn at the counter. But of course, we didn’t have a microwave either.

Anyway, my family always got a few Disney movies. Always. One cartoon and one non-cartoon. Always. I still sing “First you take a rag, put in the bag. BUMP BUMP!” when I am picking up after the kids.

First you pick it up, put it in the bag. Bump Bump!

My kids love Disney too. All three have gone through the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse stage. Alice is in it right now and I admit to loving watching her do the hot dog dance. Eddie has found all the old Mickey cartoons on Netflix and watched them a zillion times. His favorite is the Three Mouseketeers. He once told me that he loves it because “they always work together and the good guys always win….every time I watch it, Mom!”

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This past summer I took Eddie to see Zootopia. We both loved it! And guess what! As of September 20 it’s available on Netflix! I know what we are doing this weekend.

If that news isn’t big and exciting enough, maybe this will knock your socks off (it did mine): Netflix is now the exclusive place to stream Disney (THE JUNGLE BOOK!), Lucasfilm (ZOMG STAR WARS!), Marvel (Netflix original shows!), and Pixar (FINDING DORY IS COMING!). THESE ARE ALL OF OUR FAVORITES!

Just in time for the weather to turn cool and to bust out the cuddly blankets for a good movie night! So grab some popcorn and start streaming!

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Disclaimer: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam. I receive free Netflix streaming and a device to watch it on in exchange for a post once a month. All opinions are my own.

 

And Then There Were Two School Kids

I thought I was ready. I though this year would be much easier, and I suppose in a way it was. At least with Eddie.  I have to say I was super prepared as far as supplies go. I had everybody’s supply lists filled before August even hit since I knew I had surgery and then a bunch of other busy things going on in August.

New lunch box and a backpack full of supplies for Eddie and a new backpack for Charlie Bird.

I started back the week before Labor Day for staff things and getting my classroom ready. Eddie had open house for 2nd grade–the Turtle Room.

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I asked him if he was nervous or excited. He shrugged and said, “well, I know everyone in my grade, so I guess I am just okay. A little excited to see everyone, but not too much. I like summer.”

On Tuesday the 6th, I kissed my not-so-little guy goodbye and told him to have a wonderful first day, and we both headed off to our first days of school.

This is where I get to say how much I hate missing every single first day of school for my own kids. Yet at the same time I am so grateful Cortney can be there to at least bring Eddie to school…even if it is to the before school program and not right to the classroom. With Eddie, this is his third year in the same school and the same before/after program. He knows how it all works.

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He even has that first day of school pose down. Cortney didn’t even tell him to do this, he just did it because he knows…he totally knows what makes a cute first day of school picture. He barely said goodbye to his dad as he found his friends in the multipurpose room and went to catch up after a summer apart. He was good.

When I showed up to pick him up, he was actually bummed. He wanted to go to the after school program and play with his friends even more. But we went home and he let me take the traditional first day picture by the tree:

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Who is this big kid? The only way I could get him to stand there and smile was to promise that he could also take a picture of me after my first day of Year 14.

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Don’t judge. I looked cute when I left the house in the morning. Then it was somewhere around the surface of the sun hot and humidity was around a million percent.  And our building does not have AC. So no, by 3:45pm, I was not looking so fresh.

Before I could wrap my head around Eddie and I being back to school, we found ourselves at open house for preschool…for Charlie Bird. The Fish Room!

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I feel like this is where my back to school adventure hit a curve in the road. I knew it was coming; I mean I bought the backpack with dinosaurs all over it! But holding his little nervous hand as we looked around what will be his classroom this year, my own tummy did flip flops for him.

You see, he is my brave, courageous, tough Bird. But he is very VERY cautious about change and new things. He is careful. And he gets overwhelmed and too much at once shuts him down.  We were very close to complete shut down at openhouse. It was…a lot.

But the last thing we did was check out the playground, and just like that, his smile came back. He knew how to “do” playgrounds. He was comfortable again. And his confidence came back. And he assured me preschool would be great.

This week was his first day. I was a wreck all morning knowing I couldn’t be there to hug him before he went. Yes, he had hugged me, put my face in his hands, and said, “Mom mom it will be a great day!” But I was still so nervous for him. Again, Cortney was able to meet our daycare provider at school for drop-off to give Charlie some last-minute hugs and encouragement.

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Of course he also got a quick shot of our Bird before he went off as an official preschooler. (That is his friend from daycare. They are not in the same class, but they do get to ride to and from school together. So that is fun).

When he got home, he came in the house and the first thing he said was, “Mom mom! School is AWESOME!”  I wanted to cry I was so excited for him.

He even let me take his picture by the tree.

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Tuesday morning I told him to have a great day at school and he smiled and said, “I will have a great SECOND day of school!”

Then his teacher sent me this:

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I mistakenly thought Back to School would be easier this year because I had been through it with Eddie three times already. I thought Charlie starting Preschool would somehow be easier because we had been through it with Eddie and knew what to expect. I learned that it doesn’t really matter. Each first day is a new first day. A new milestone. For Eddie it wasn’t as emotionally difficult, but it was still an adjustment to see him so easy and relaxed about going off without us into the world.

For Charlie it was much more emotional than I prepared myself for it to be. Preschool is a big milestone. It’s the first day of all first days of school. It’s the very start. And for my Baby Bird, it means he’s now not a baby. He’s Charlie now (although at open house he did tell his teacher he likes to be called Charlie Bird).  He goes into the world and learns things without me there.

Yeah, it doesn’t get easier.

But here we go…two kids in school. And one mom.

National Book Awards: The Next Bracket

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In June, I posted about a project that I am doing with a group of other educators. Dr. Steven Bickmore (you should go read his YA blog, by the way) gathered a bunch of us together to read all of the National Book Award winners and runners up since the award for YA turned twenty this year. We divided up the books by year (there are five books per year); my year was 1996 and I posted about those books here.

We each chose a “winner” from our year to move on to the next round. I chose A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (a finalist in 1996; the winner that year being Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez).

From there we were put into groups of five to read each other’s picks and work together to nominate one from our group to move on. These are the next four books I read (in addition to A Girl Named Disaster):

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (2000 National Book Award Winner)

Maybe it’s my historical fiction kick, but I really loved this book. In fact, this is tied for me with A Girl Named Disaster to move on to the next round.

So what is the book about? Koly is only thirteen years old when her parents arrange a marriage for her. While an arranged marriage is typical in India, Koly’s takes a tragic turn and she is left to fend for herself in a large city. The book is a quick read and appeals to all levels. It’s set in India and asks the reader to wonder about family structures, cultures, and traditions while also addressing the idea that the individual does not have to fit a mold to be a happy part of society.

Godless by Pete Hautman (2004 National Book Award Winner)

While Homeless Bird was my favorite of the four new books I read, this was my least favorite. I wanted it to be my favorite. I wanted to fall into it and find a bit of myself in it. The book is narrated by teenager Jason Bock whose family is very Catholic. Jason identifies as a “agnostic-going-on-atheist”. His parents try to get him into the fold of religion by sending him to a class at church for teenagers to talk about issues. The class only solidifies Jason’s apathy toward organized religion. In a moment of boredom and, according to Jason, clarity, he decides to create his own religion–one that worships the town water tower.

I really wanted this book to push the envelope and dig into the questions many teens have about religion and God. I was one of those teens and I craved books that showed others feeling and questioning as I did. This book fell short and only seemed to graze the surface. I was disappointed.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (2008 National Book Award Finalist)

This was another one that I loved. I almost put this as my vote to move on, but didn’t just because I think Homeless Bird appeals to a larger range of students than Chains does.

Chains takes place just as the Revolutionary War is about to begin. Isabel is a 13-year old slave in Rhode Island whose mistress dies. She and her sister are to be freed according to their mistresses will, but that does not happen and she is sold to a cruel New York City couple who side with the King and not with the American Revolution. Isabel finds herself befriending a slave boy who works for the Rebels and delivers messages and makes other dangerous errands that could get her beat…or worse.

This book was brilliant. It was long, and took a bit to get into, but the way Anderson wove both history and fiction together was flawless. Anderson has a follow up novel, Forge, and also a third, Ashes. I think students who love American History and have more reading stamina will fall in love with this series.

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (2012 National Book Award Finalist)

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction and what I do read is usually memoir, and I definitely don’t read books about science, war, or bombs, so I waited to read this one until the very last. Where Godless disappointed me, this one thrilled me. Bomb is written as a narrative of how the nuclear bomb was imagined, theorized, tested, and finally created. It also weaves in Russia’s attempts to steal the bomb using primary source quotes from American and Russian spies. It’s a real-life story of war and espionage. While I know what happens in the end–we make the bomb before he Germans and bomb Japan–I was still on the edge of my seat for the personal stories of the scientists who worked on the bomb…and those who leaked information to the Russians. The photos throughout were also a wonderful addition to the book. I want a separate category for books like this, but I feel like maybe this is one of a kind.

Overall I think the books I can see my 8th graders picking up and reading on their own are Homeless Bird and A Girl Named Disaster. Those are tied for me and I would be happy to move either on to the next round!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

A Year and a Half

My dear Alice,

This week was so very busy with Eddie and me starting school and getting Charlie ready to start next week. Cub scouts started up again for Eddie as did bowling for daddy. Things were so, so crazy. But I didn’t forget you. I didn’t forget your milestone this week.

Tuesday you turned 18 months.  A year and a half. More toddler than baby now.

You are the absolute sunshine of my soul, my love. Your personality is really starting to develop while you find your place in this crazy family of ours. You are SO expressive! Both your laugh and your cry are LOUD, but you can also do the cutest little soft whispery voice.

You are a lady of few words, but can say “Mama,” “Dada,” “please” (peez), “thank you” (thack uuuu), “shoes,” “juice” (which sounds exactly like”shoes” but we know what you want because you are standing next to the fridge when you say it), “no,” “yes,” “uh uh” (for no), and “bop” (for your pacifier).

You shrug your shoulders if we ask you a question, which is especially funny because you do it even when you know the answer. You put your hands out when you want something. For instance if you see I have my phone you will put your little hands together. Sometimes you will even add “pees” and tilt your head to the side because you know I am weak for your cuteness.

You love baths, but hate water in your eyes. You love the beach, but hate the sand. You love to be outside, but do not enjoy grass in your toes.

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You love to be busy and helpful. When daddy makes a meal, you want your apron on too! When we pick up toys, you are quick to help. When I wipe you up after a meal, you want to wipe too. You put your dirty clothes in your basket every night, throw things away that you find on the floor (usually crumbs and bits of things your brothers have left behind), and you bring people their shoes. You know where things go and do not like then to be out of order. Just like your Mama.

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When your brothers were little (and even now to some degree, especially Charlie), they shadowed daddy all the time. Wanting to help fix things and wear a hat. Charlie still helps daddy mow the lawn and put things together. But you are my little shadow. Watching how you comb your hair, or play with the old makeup brush I gave you, or even wear my slippers around the house is like holding up a mirror to myself.

When I scold your brothers, you stand next to me with your little hands clasped behind your back like you are my wing woman. When I am in the bathroom doing my hair and makeup, you stand on the other side of the gate demanding a comb and makeup brushes and jewelry too.

You carry your baby the way I carry you. You give her kisses and giggle the way I kiss you until you giggle.

You throw all your things in your little purse, put it over your arm, and wave bye bye the way I do each morning before heading to work.

And while you’ve been doing this awhile, it still surprises and delights me everyday. After momming two little boys, having a little girl who wants to do what I do is lovely every day. It’s also a giant responsibility. I think more of the words and tone I use. About the way I talk about myself. Of course I think of these things with the boys too, but raising a girl who already wants to be just like me…well, it makes me think of what I hope for you and how I can model that in my own life for you to see.

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You are cute. You are the littlest. You are the only girl. And let’s face it, you may be a bit spoiled. You are used to getting your way. So when the answer is “no”? It doesn’t go over well.

The lip comes out, the brows furrow, and sometimes there are even tears. You will cross your arms over your chest, and at times you will stop your little feet. Daddy and I don’t give in, but sometimes your brothers do. They love you and think you are just the best thing. Eddie even calls you “Sweetie” more than he calls you “Alice.”

Charlie almost exclusively calls you “Beans” or “Beansy”. Both both refer to you as “Beansy Girl” when they are calling for you. I guess your nickname of “Alice Beans” has stuck.

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You love girly things in a way that actually surprised me. We have lots of “boy-type toys” in this house. Eddie would play with whatever when he was little, loving both dolls and trucks, the play kitchen and blocks. Charlie is a poster child for the boy stereotype with his obsession over dinosaurs, blocks, and trucks. You are my little girl stereotype. You have access to any toy, and over and over you gravitate toward the pink things: dolls, strollers, purses, tea set.

But that doesn’t mean you leave your brothers and their toys alone. Oh no.

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You have mastered the art of “Little Sistering”. If Eddie has his DS out, you need to sit and watch…which means you will eventually put your feet on him, touch the screen, and annoy him until he puts it down and play with you or he gets mad and leaves you.

If Charlie is building something with mega blocks, you have the notion that it is your job…your duty, even…to knock those creations down. Because clearly Charlie can’t be having fun if you aren’t there to destroy what he as built so he can start all over again. I think you think you are doing him a service.

They love you so much, Alice. You will find that Eddie is your confidant. He will listen to you and be by your side always. He will try to cheer you up and be there when you need a hug.  Charlie will be your defending. Not that you won’t be able to fight your own battles, but Charlie will have your back. He will be prepared to jump in whenever you need him. You have the two best big brothers a girl could ask for. You will always be loved, heard, and protected when you need it.

My sweet Alice…having you as my daughter is one of the biggest honors I have ever been given. You are my joy. I just love watching you grow and learn and be your biggest cheerleader.

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So my beautiful blue-eyed girl, never stop staring down new things. Don’t let the world tell you that you can’t be serious and that you have to smile all the time. But don’t be afraid to laugh and cry and stay expressive because it’s what makes you so very lovely.

I love you more than words could ever express.

Momma

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