Archive of ‘Mrs. McGriff’ category

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner

Poliser_SummerLettingGo_jkt_website_207_1Gae Polisner’s The Summer of Letting Go (Algonquin 2014) will haunt me in all the best ways long after I turn the last page.  If you are looking for THE book to take to the beach or to the pool with you this summer, this is it.  Even if you are nowhere near a beach or pool, this hopeful, heartbreaking story will transport you there.

Francesca (known as Frankie) Schnell has been stuck in her life ever since she let her little brother SImon drown four years ago.  Now that she is about to turn sixteen, things are changing whether she wants them to or not.  Her best friend Lisette is dating Bradley, the boy Francesca likes.  Then another Frankie–Frankie Sky–shows up and cracks open questions that Francesca may never be able to answer.

One of the things I love about this book is the questions that it raises.  What is Frankie Sky’s connection to Simon?  What happens after we die?  There are more than enough coincidences to make Francesca–and readers–wonder, but the questions linger instead of being neatly answered.  It is in the asking and living of the questions that Francesca begins to live again and to let go of the guilt that plagues her.

How can you not love characters that live in these pages?  I love Francesca’s awkwardness and confusion and courage.  She’s not perfect, but she is willing to step up and do the hard things.  Frankie Sky is a whirlwind of energy and mystery–a four-year-old that is wise and stubborn beyond his years even when he tries to fly.  It is definitely Francesca’s story, but I love the supporting characters just as much, from the mysterious neighbor Mrs. Merrill to the struggling Mrs. Schyler.  Even the parents come across as real people–a welcome presence in a YA novel.  Oh yes, there just might be even a little romance.

Now I hope I can talk my daughter into reading it, but I may have ruined my chances by raving too much about it.

Rain at the Fair

I’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

I jumped into Teachers Write yesterday.  Jo Knowles invited us to reflect on finding beauty in our writing with her Monday Morning Warmup.  I’m still thinking about that one.  I suspect her words and ideas will resonate for a long time.  I’ve not written directly about her invitation, but thoughts of it are underlying my writing this week and beyond.

Kate Messner provided a powerful minilesson on adding a deeper layer of sensory details.  This is something I know.  It is something I taught my students again and again through the year.  But it is still something that blows me away with its power and simplicity when I remember to do it myself.

I started out sitting on my back porch and writing about what a haven that space has become for me this summer.  I completed a quick description and brainstormed more details.  Before I could incorporate those details into a revised draft, I got interrupted.  I haven’t gone back to that piece yet, but last night at the county fair a rainstorm kept us trapped in one of the buildings.  Here’s my writing from the fair.

First draft:

Not even a thunderstorm can keep people away from the first full night of the fair.  Lightning cracks and thunder booms.  Rain splatters and blows across dirt, gravel, and pavement.  People crowd into the wildlife building to escape the downpour.  Conversations swell around me.  A stroller parks infront of me, green and yellow ballons tied to the handles.  Children skip across the concrete floor, stop and point at the taxidermied critters behind the fence.  Empty wasp nests dangle from the ceiling.

More details focusing on each sense:

  • Sight:  bright green fake grass, wood paneling. bags, rulers, and t-shirts advertising the local hospital and political candidates
  • Sounds:  patter of rain, laughter, shrieks, country/bluegrass music
  • Smells:  buttery popcorn, deep fried poptarts and pickles and Twinkies, sweat and swam from the turtle tank behind me
  • Touch:  smooth hard bench, cool pricks of rain blowing in

Revised version:

Not even a thunderstorm can keep people away from the first full night of the fair.  As lightning cracks and thunder roars, rain splatters across the gravel and pavement between the buildings.  I sit on a hard wooden bench in the wildlife building.  Cool pricks of rain blow against my arm as people crowd in to escape the downpour.  Conversations swell around me.  A lawyer running for prosecutor greets adults as the walk by.  Children laugh and shriek as their feet splash through puddles.  They stop and point at the taxidermied animals posed between a fence and paneled walls.  A beaver, badger, mallard, otter, skunk, snapping turtle, raccoon, and deer stand motionless on a bright green carpet of artificial turf.  A stroller parks in front of me with green and yellow ballons tied to the handles.  A little girl with the straps of her tank top falling down clutches a bag of buttery popcorn and twirls away from her mom’s outstretched arms.  The rain lets up as quickly as it began.  The building empties out and we follow the smell of deep fried pickles out into the rest of the fair.

Now I’m off to try this morning’s quick write!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.

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After the flurry of completing 4-H projects last week, we are ready to celebrate at our county fair this week.  I don’t submit any entries for the fair, but I sure am proud of the sewing my daughter has done this year.  Last week was a better reading week.

I finished…

casual vacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling – You can read my review by clicking on the title.  (Yes, I am finally getting back to writing book reviews on my blog.)  I was blown away by its humor and tragedy and human frailty.  It was filled with characters I won’t soon forget.

imageW.A.R.P. The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer – I hope to write a review of this one soon, but I enjoyed this audio book.  There were so many twists and turns at the end that I got dizzy.  I’m looking forward to Chevron’s next adventure.

summer of letting goThe Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – I finished this heart-breaking, hope-inspiring book Sunday afternoon.  It is the perfect summer read, portraying a summer filled with hope, loss, change, and love.  I hope to write a review of it as well this week.

I’m currently reading…

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – I managed to read a few more chapters and get back to Jean Valjean and Cosette.  They are my favorite parts of the story.

id tell you i love youI’d Tell You I’d Love You But I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter – My daughter has raved about this series for years, and now that I was able to download it from SYNC YA earlier this summer, I’m finally getting around to reading it.  Can I just say, I want to go t spy school.

Coming up…

I will be starting Teachers Write this week (hosted by Jen at Teach Mentor TextsKate Messner, Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles and an amazing cast of authors), so I will be doing lots of writing in addition to catching up on book reviews.  I’m heading to the library tomorrow to pick up these two books:

  • Getting Started As a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly
  • The Renegade Writer:  A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formicelli and Diana Burrell

What are you reading this week?

Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

casual vacancyI’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter series ever since my first year of teaching when a student presented a book report on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I stood in line at midnight release parties to ge the latest book as soon as it came out.  So when I heard that JK Rowling had written another book after finishing the Harry Potter series, I knew I wanted to read it.  I just didn’t get around to it until now.

Someone donated A Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown, and Co., 2012) in a box of books for our Little Free Library.  I have to confess that I snagged it out to read before placing it in the library.  I am so glad I did.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Even though A Casual Vacancy is set in a small English village, I felt right at home.  Pragford reminded me of many small towns I have lived in.  I guess people don’t change that much around the world.

The death of Barry Fairbrother sets off a chain of reactions that both reveal and shift the existing faultlines in the relationships of the characters.  At first I found it difficult to keep track of the many different characters affected by Fairbrother’s death, but soon I was making connections between them as Rowling skillfully wove their stories together.  Many times the characters were not even aware of the threads connecting them in unsuspecting ways.

The novel begins and ends with tragedy, but along the way it is filled with humor.  That humor is needed as Rowling gives an unflinching look at some of the more selfish motivations shared by many of us.  The good people of Pragford have never forgiven the poor people of the Fields (mainly government subsidized housing) for being thrust upon them.  The good people of Pragford are ready to do almost anything to remove the Fields filled with undesirable people from their picture-perfect village.  Of course, Pragford is only picture-perfect as long as no one looks too closely or digs too deeply for long-buried secrets.

Even though A Casual Vacancy is filled with Muggles only, I loved every page.  It is not a book for every fan of Harry Potter, especially younger fans.  Rowling gives an unflinching glimpse of real life–including the darker side of drug abuse and promiscuity and violence.  I will be looking for her latest books, published under a pen name, to see what else she can pull out of her pen.

June Books Read

My first two books for the month of June were birthday gifts.  I think my family knows me well.  They gave me books and chocolate–and some new patio furniture for the back porch.   Let the reading continue!

68) Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow – The illustrations brought back so many memories of favorite books and characters from my childhood.

69)  A Love that Lasts – There is no one right way to live in a happy marriage.

70) Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon – I knew there was a reason I didn’t like those pesky mosquitoes!

71)   Best Friends – story & pictures by Steven Kellogg – the highs and lows of friendship captured in a vivid imagination

72) Together – by George Ella Lyon, pictures by Vera Rosenberry – another combination of friendship and imagination

73)  A Pond So Blue – by Dan Waters, pictures by Danny B. Dalby – little fish work together to overcome the big catfish

74) A Gift of a Tree by Greg Henry Quinn, pictures by Ronda Krum – I picked up this one in honor of my forester husband

75) The Tooth Tree by Nicholas Heller – What happens when you bury a tooth in the backyard instead of under a pillow?

76) Finding Nemo by Disney Pixar

77) 101 Dalmations by Disney

78) Simba and Nala at Play:  A Book About Opposites

79) Curious George Snowy Day adapted by Rotem Moscovich

80) Jamaica Tag-Along by Juanita Havill, pictures by Anne Sibley O’Brien

81) A Wish-For Dinosaur by Jane Belk Moncure, pictures by Vera K. Gohman

82)Muppet Babies Count with Me by Louise Gikow, pictures by David Prebenna

83) The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult – lots of good things in this book, but a difficult read for me

84) Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully – I got this from the summer reading program at our library.  Now I want to try walking on a high wire.

85) Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – I loved reading this one to my daughter.  It’s still good now that she is a teen.

86) Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans – another adventure with Madeline

87) How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isop and Gwen Millward – cute rhyming story about–hugging different animals

88) 102 Wacky Monster Jokes -by Michael Pellowski – Some definitely caused groans, but certain kids will eat this one up.

89) The Butterfly Counting Book by Jerry Pallotta – Much more than I expected from a counting book–including words for butterfly in many languages

90) The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – another mystery full of danger, intrigue, and of course, symbols

91) Where Is Home, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman – cute picture book about a penguin who gets separated from his parents and can’t find his way home

92) W.A.R.P.:  The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer – This new series has an evil villain, two spunky orphans, and time travel back to Victorian England.

My favorites this month were from the picture books:  Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Mirette on the High Wire.  What were your favorite reads from this month?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila atBook Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.

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The #bookaday challenge that I usually participate in through the summer has turned into #bookaweek and then some this week.  I finished just one book this week:

71VjepfB1-LWhere Is Home, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman – The Little Free Library organization sent me this picture book in my Steward’s Packet.  It’s a cute story about a penguin who gets separated from his parents and can’t find his way home.  I can’t wait to add it to the library outside.  This edition has both English and Spanish text.  Unfortunately, I can read only the English.

In related library news, I wrote a press release about our new little library and sent it to the regional paper in the next county.  The Columbus, IN, Republic published to story in Sunday’s paper.  That was exciting!

I’m currently reading:

imageW.A.R.P. The Reluctant Assassin b Eoin Colfer – One more run should put me through the end of this one.  It’s definitely exciting, and I can’t wait to see how–and if–Chevron and Riley defeat Garrick.  I will be looking for the next one in the series soon.  I am glad I don’t live in Victorian England.  I’ll stick with modern sanitation.

imageThe Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling – Wow!  I’m just past the halfway mark in this one, and I like it.  At first I had trouble keeping the large cast of characters straight in my head, but now that I’m seeing the connections between them (that sometimes the characters don’t realize), I am enjoying the wicked humor.

What’s coming up:

In addition to finishing the books above, I’d like to read more in Les Miserables this week.  Will Marius ever find the girl of his dreams again?

I’d also like to continue reading another short story or two in Fidelity by Wendell Berry.

Five Favorite Things

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

I’m sitting on the back porch listening to the rain sweep across the grass and trees.  Thunder echoes deep behind the clouds while birds call goodnight to each other.  Cool breezes caress my skin, providing relief from the day’s heat and humidity.  And I smile as I think about my favorite things from the grand opening of our Little Free Library.

1.  The weather cleared!  Earlier Friday afternoon, a thunderstorm exploded overhead, but about an hour before the clouds broke up and blue sky even peeked through.  After we were done, the clouds reappeared, dropping rain on us again.

It was still humid, so my camera lense kept fogging up.

It was still humid, so my camera lense kept fogging up.

2.  People came!  We had no idea if anyone would show up or not.  Several neighbors dropped by along with friends from church.  Most took a book or two home with them.  We all enjoyed the brownies and punch and conversation.

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3.  More people donated books!  Another friend had seen news of our LFL and messaged me to ask if I wanted the children’s books left over from her yard sale.  That box was filled with treasures–Madeline, My Side of the Mountain, the Boxcar Children, and Magic Treehouse.  The best part is I get to read the books, too!  Now I may need a warehouse to store them all.

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4.  Some visitors surprise us!  One evening while we were reading in the living room, a car we didn’t recognize pulled into the driveway.  Instead of stopping at the library, though, a young woman with a handful of books came to the door.  ”These don’t have the stickers in them, so I wanted to give them to you,” she said as she turned back to the car.  (I’ve been putting Free Little Library stickers in the front cover to advertise.)  I’m not worried about the stickers, but I love to see people taking ownership for caring for the books.

 

5.  We are now official!  The day after the Grand Opening, I received my official Steward’s Packet with our sign.  They also sent a lot of helpful information and cool stuff:  bumper sticker, book plates, bookmarks, and even a book for the library.

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It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila atBook Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.

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I thought I was going to have my first week in a long time where I did not finish any books.  I was reading, just longer books.  I also did lots of writing this week, and welcomed my mom for a week long visit.  We also had the grand opening for our Little Free Library Friday night.  You can read all about that tomorrow.

lost symbolI knew once I got into it, I would have a hard time putting down Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol (Anchor 2010).  For once, Robert Langdon is not awaked on the first page with the scene of a grisly murder, but there is plenty of danger and death to come.  Once again, I enjoyed following the clues and interpreting–and misinterpreting–the symbols and clues.  I see Brown has a new novel, Inferno, that I’ll have to add to my TBR pile.

I also had a friend drop by a box of books for our Little Free Library.  I had to read some of the picture books before adding them to the library.

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  • Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully – I got this from the summer reading program at our library.  Now I want to try walking on a high wire.
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – I loved reading this one to my daughter.  It’s still good now that she is a teen.
  • Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans – another adventure with Madeline
  • How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isop and Gwen Millward – cute rhyming story about–hugging different animals
  • 102 Wacky Monster Jokes -by Michael Pellowski – Some definitely caused groans, but certain kids will eat this one up.
  • The Butterfly Counting Book by Jerry Pallotta – Much more than I expected from a counting book–including words for butterfly in many languages

 I am currently reading:

imageWARP:  The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer – I’ve taken several long runs and done lots of yard work so I could listen to more of this one.  Riley and Chevron make a good pair as they try to prevent the evil Albert Garrick from creating even more evil as they travel through time.  There were several surprising twists.

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo –  I haven’t read much this week, but I did get a few chapters read while waiting to pick up my daughter.  I love having it on my phone to pull out whenever I have a few moments.  For all those readers who complained that Bella wasted too much time crying over Edward, Marius has her beat longing after a girl whose name he doesn’t even know.

What books are coming up:

imageI plan on picking up JK Rowling’s Casual Vacancy this week.  I will probably read some more of the pictures books that have come my way, too.  Who knows what other books the week may bring.

Come visit our Little Free Library!

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

It all started with the snow that overwhelmed us this past winter.  My husband looked at the unused basketball goal in our driveway and suggested that he build a birdhouse to fit between the posts.

“I’ve got a better idea,” I responded.  ”Look at these.”  I pulled up the website for Little Free Library.  ”Would you build me a library instead?”

I couldn’t believe it when he said yes.  Then came months of discussion.  He thought the books should be in a waterproof plastic container inside the house.  I said no containers.  The library needs a glass door so people can see the books.

I know with my students, they are much more likely to pick up a book to read if it’s easy to pick up.  They are more likely to read from my classroom library than the school library.  They are more likely to pick up a book that has the cover facing out on the chalk tray or book stand than they are to pick one up from all the titles standing on the shelves with just the spine out.

Once spring arrived, my husband started building.  He created a little library with three shelves out of spare material he had lying around.  The wood is wrapped in water-proof cloth. The roof has shingles.  Cedar siding warps around three sides.  The door does indeed have a full glass window so everyone can see the books.  I was responsible for painting the inside.  White reflects light from the ceiling and two walls.  Turquoise pops along the back wall and shelves–at least what you can see around the books.

I am also responsible for filling the shelves with books.  I’ve been hitting up yard sales and thrift stores.  As I’ve told people about the Little Free Library, several have offered donations of books for it.  Two overflowing boxes sit behind me waiting for books to be taken so I have room to add them to the shelves.  My husband’s comment:  ”I thought this library was going to get rid of books in our house, not multiply them.”

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Now that the library was built and officially registered, it was time to spread the news.  We copied a flyer and set off Saturday afternoon around the neighborhood.  We live in a rural neighborhood, so it is two miles around the “block,” and that doesn’t include heading back long drives shared by multiple houses.  Thank goodness for the four wheeler.  On some of the houses we just left a flyer stuck in the door, but if people were home, we stopped to tell them about it.  What were the reactions?

  • Most people were quite excited about it–especially those with kids.
  • Some people offered donations of books.  I explained that they were encouraged to trade out as many books as they wanted.  The whole concept is “Take a book, leave a book.”  I can’t wait to see what comes in.
  • A few people gave me strange–or maybe it was just confused–looks.  But they thanked us anyway.
  • One person asked when the block party was.  It’s Friday night!  We plan to have refreshments for our grand opening!
  • Only one person had a negative comment–and he even thought his grandkids would like it.  He would like it if we’d keep the grandkids for a while.  No.

Now the library has been built, the shelves have been filled, and the invitations have been sent.  Now all that’s left is to see who will come to the party.  I hope the whole neighborhood will.

 

The new Slam Dunk Books Little Free Library 15682.

The new Slam Dunk Books Little Free Library 15682.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people are reading.

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This is is my first week joining this meme, and I am excited to be a part of it.  Be warned.  This is not a typical reading week for me.  I am a brand new steward of a new Little Free Library that my husband built to go in our front yard.  I’ve been hitting up yard sales and thrift stores to find books to fill it.  Since we don’t have a lot of picture books left in our house, I’ve been searching for those.  Of course, I had to read them before putting them on the shelves!

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  • Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon – I knew there was a reason I didn’t like those pesky mosquitoes!
  •  Best Friends - story & pictures by Steven Kellogg – the highs and lows of friendship captured in a vivid imagination
  • Together - by George Ella Lyon, pictures by Vera Rosenberry – another combination of friendship and imagination
  • A Pond So Blue - by Dan Waters, pictures by Danny B. Dalby – little fish work together to overcome the big catfish
  • A Gift of a Tree by Greg Henry Quinn, pictures by Ronda Krum – I picked up this one in honor of my forester husband
  • The Tooth Tree by Nicholas Heller – What happens when you bury a tooth in the backyard instead of under a pillow?
  • Finding Nemo by Disney Pixar
  • 101 Dalmations by Disney
  • Simba and Nala at Play:  A Book About Opposites
  • Curious George Snowy Day adapted by Rotem Moscovich
  • Jamaica Tag-Along by Juanita Havill, pictures by Anne Sibley O’Brien
  •  A Wish-For Dinosaur by Jane Belk Moncure, pictures by Vera K. Gohman
  • Muppet Babies Count with Me by Louise Gikow, pictures by David Prebenna

circle-500I also finished The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult.  I loved the interplay of the narrative with pages in graphic novel format (one of the characters was a graphic novelist), the allusions to Dante’s Inferno (one day I’m going to get brave enough to read it), and the folklore from Native Alaskans.  I found it to be a difficult read for me.  As the mother of a 15 year old girl, reading about the rape of a 14 year old girl and it’s aftermath hit too close to home.

 

This week I am continuing to read these books:

 

  • les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – I’ve been reading this off and on for a year and a half.  Now that summer is here, I am getting back into it.  Thank goodness I’m back to the story after a long detour of political hisTory and theory. Now I get to read about Marius moping over the beautiful girl whose name he doesn’t even know.
  • lost symbolThe Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – one of the advantages of being a LFL steward is finding books I want to read that have been donated.  I just started this one, but so aural no dead bodies or gruesome murders.  I suspect it’s coming soon.
  • 9780679748311_p0_v2_s260x420Fidelity by Wendell Berry – I didn’t know Berry wrote short stories until my former pastor passed on this collection to me.  I’m reading about one a week to let them soak in.  This week’s story “A Jonquil for Mary Penn” was a lovely love story.
  • imageWARP The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer – I’m listening to this one from a download by Sync YA earlier this summer.  I know I’m enjoying it because I keep finding reasons to run a little more or clean a little longer so I can keep listening!

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