Monday, March 12, 2018

Native American Reading

Unintentionally, some of my reading this winter followed a distinct theme of Native Americans and the awful way we treated their ancestors and continue to mistreat them. I’m not sure how I ended up grouping these books together in the space of a few weeks, but I am glad that it happened. These books stand alone in their different genres and voices yet together form a strong collection with real significance for me. I would recommend any of the following books.
My path began with Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann which I listened to in my car. Grann does an amazing job of weaving tons of details and research with a captivating narrative. The audiobook is read in three sections by three different narrators, one of whom is Will Patton. (I can admit to being completely distracted at times by his slightly southern, gravelly textured, somehow intimate voice...sigh...but I digress.) The story of government sanctioned robbery, embezzlement and murder of the Osage tribe is so mind blowing yet emblematic of our country’s systematic dismissal of native tribes it should be required reading for all Americans. The FBI parts are interesting, too, but the Osage murders steal the show.
The search for a new ninth grade summer reading book at my school prompted some re-reading this winter which included The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. (Small pause to disclose my deep and ardent Barbara Kingsolver girl-crush...sigh.) I read this book in college and have read every one of her books since, but this was the first re-read of hers for me. I enjoyed it all over again; so much so that Pigs in Heaven quickly followed because honestly I couldn’t remember what happened to Taylor and her adopted daughter, Turtle. The story resonated in a way that I am sure it did not at my first reading twenty some years ago, as Taylor fights to keep her Native American daughter from the Cherokee tribe. My younger and less enlightened self was probably all Taylor, but the me coming off of Killers has a lot more understanding for Annawake and the tribe. 
Without even thinking of this string of books, lots of press and a lucky hit on my local public library Overdrive catalog brought me to Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. Although she grew up on a reservation in Canada not the US, the residue of generations of institutional racism is just as thick. Mailhot’s memoir is fragmented (in a good way), raw, brutal and honest. Her writing style may slant slightly toward what I think of as MFA’d, but most of it blew me away. I can’t wait to see what comes next from her. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

13 Reasons Why

In January of 2000 I signed my first teaching contract. Twenty-one kindergarteners would be my captive audience for 45 minutes a day and I was confident that classroom management would not be a problem since I had the toys. I was, after all, the new science teacher at MSAD 11. Now, if you don’t recall first grade science, let me remind you that racing marbles down ramps of varying heights and launching whirligigs off of stairwells were just two awesome activities. Sadly, though, I must confess that I did, indeed, have some behavioral hiccups. My mantra began and went something like this:

“Please clean up after yourself.”
“I know your tooth is loose, but you have to push in your chair before you go to the nurse.”
“Please check the floor before you leave.”  

I ended up dedicating twelve years to those munchkins and when I finally transitioned to the upper grades, it wasn’t because of the curriculum; I became weary of hearing my own reminders.Now I work in a library a few nights a week at The Governor’s Academy and I am stunned at the number of times that the ole mantra comes out of my mouth. Well, most of it. So, this former elementary school teacher is asking you to please remember these 13 Reasons Why No Adult in Pesky Should Ever Have to Pick Up Your Gum Wrapper.
13. It’s sloppy.
12. It’s lazy.
11. It’s thoughtless.
10. It’s disrespectful.
9. It’s irresponsible.
8. It’s immature.
7. It reflects poorly on you.
6. It reflects poorly on your friends.
5. It reflects poorly on your community.
4. Your handbook prohibits it.
3. Your teachers expect more.
2. Your adults raised you better.
            1. And in the words of Robert Fulghum, author of Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, you should always, “CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.”


Monday, February 12, 2018

Cupid Rhymes with Stupid...un-Valentine's Day Books

I am not a celebratory person. This personality trait covers many aspects of life including birthdays, events, and holidays, but it really rises to the surface when faced with commercially overblown fake holidays. Valentine’s Day--I’m talking to you. Why, oh why, has a single date on the calendar come to signify love and all sundry of pink things? Every year wherever I’m working I battle for an un-Valentine book display as opposed to the ubiquitous “Love Story” array, and most years I win. Let’s face it--people happy in love don’t need to read about other people happy in love, but a great, kick-you-in-the-face, love stinks book can do wonders for the heartsick psyche. Or anyone, really.
A number of different plotlines fall into the love stinks genre: death of one (or both) characters, fate or life circumstances keep lovers apart, it’s-not-you-it’s-me break up, falling out of love, etc. Here are a few books from our display that meet these different love stinks scenarios.

Death: The demise of a romantic partner can be as classic as Romeo and Juliet, taken with a modern twist like The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) and Me Before You (JoJo Moyes), or encompass diverse relationships like A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara). Any way you slice it these books are sad--bring tissues.

They’re Better Off Apart: Some characters just don’t belong together--for me Rhett and Scarlett (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)  fall clearly into this category. Is she going to “get him back” as she claims near the end? I for one hope not. Everyone in This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz) is better off without the main character, Yunior, in this collection of connected short stories. It’s possible that he has finally learned something in the end...but you never know.

Life Circumstances Keep Them Apart: Circumstances can’t get much more uncontrollable than The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger). Clare and Henry attempt a traditional marriage even though he tends to arbitrarily jump around to different times. Yeah, that will complicate things.  Family pulls a late in life couple apart in Our Souls at Night (Kent Haruf), and a more perfectly tidy, heartbreaking 180 pages may not exist in literature. Read it in one sitting--you won’t regret it.

So many not-perfect endings, so little time.


Tuesday, February 06, 2018

How Many Kisses?

Once again we celebrate Valentine's Day with a "Guess the Kisses" contest. Running through February 14, you may come to the library and submit a different number each day. Aspiring winners employ different methods to come up with their answers. Some use rulers and calculators, others guess randomly (or wildly.) Do not ask us for hints! To be fair, we do not count until the contest closes.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

2017 Pesky Reading Challenge Celebration

Yesterday afternoon we celebrated with our 2017 Pesky Reading Challenge participants at the library; a brief but festive meeting centered on a love of books that included discussion, prizes, and gorgeous cupcakes. Five readers completed all 25 categories--what an achievement. Everyone was invited to share with the group a favorite book, a book that surprised them, or any that they would have never read without the challenge categories. One of the best things about a challenge with 25 diverse categories (from a book that takes place on an island to a steampunk novel) is that it forces readers to choose books outside of their comfort zone. And although many of our categories were directed at potentially older works--a classic, a book published before you were born--I was still struck by the books our students chose to talk about. It warms these librarians’ hearts to see young people speaking passionately and intelligently about books in general, and especially some old favorites. I thought I would highlight a few of the books that came up in our discussion.

1984 by George Orwell
A modern classic if there ever was one, Orwell’s dystopian novel greatly inspired one student. He spoke of its amazing ability to speak to students today even 60 years after it was written, and how brilliant and insightful the story was.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Our youngest reader managed to fulfill all 25 categories in 4th grade! When asked to speak of her favorite book from the list she mentioned The Princess Bride. Known mostly from the 1987 movie, the book holds its own among audiences and critics for its humor, romance, and swashbuckling story. The book is always better than the movie, right?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
This beloved fable fit a number of our categories including book under 100 pages and a book translated into English. It was heralded by one reader for its surprising universal message and standing up to all that she had heard about it in the past. There is a reason that it has been translated into over 200 languages and more than 70 years after being written it remains one of the world’s bestselling books.

Thanks again to all of the readers who participated, and we look forward to announcing our 2018 challenge soon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Martin Luther King Day

We had a fantastic program of Martin Luther King Day events here at Governor’s Academy. Darryl Davis spoke to the entire community in the morning about his lifelong quest to understand racism, and then we broke into groups for various trainings and workshops. After lunch and advisory meetings we came together again for an open mic opportunity where many students chose to read poetry. Their courage and incredible voices impressed me, and reminded me of what a potent medium poetry can be. In the past few years I have been especially moved by a number of Young Adult books written in verse by authors of color that I thought I would share for MLK Day.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This book won heaps of awards in 2014 and deserved every one of them. The phrasing and use of language is gorgeous, dynamic and paints a picture that stays with me even years later. It is autobiographical about growing up in 1960’s and 70’s, and her beginnings as a reader and writer. Woodson recently became the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Solo by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess
Blade is about to graduate from high school when faced with many typical teen issues--like girlfriend problems--and some not so typical--like dealing with his alcoholic rock star father. When he learns life altering information he travels to Africa to find out the truth. The language is beautiful, the characters are original, and the story is captivating. Alexander is the author of many books written in verse including The Crossover which won the Newbury Medal.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Reynolds is a poet motivated to “NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS” according to his Amazon bio, and he succeeded with Long Way Down. On his way to possibly avenge his brother’s death, Will endures a fantastical elevator trip that questions his memories and his motivation. Reynolds plays with structure and voice to create something unique while telling a difficult story about loss the cycle of violence. Reynold’s style and the challenging story make this a quick page-turner and good introduction to books in verse for a reader that wants to try something different.

I am also really looking forward to the March release of Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X. This will be Acevedo’s first foray into YA literature, but her award winning slam poetry style and feminist slant seem a sure bet for a great read. We already have it in the cart and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on it.