Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

So, I was going on a trip and would be away for about four days, and I took Brown Girl Dreaming with me, because I knew that a book as thick as Brown Girl Dreaming would definitely be enough to keep me entertained during my down time while out of town. However, I started reading this book that is written in verse, and by the time my three to four hour flight landed, I was finished and madly in love with Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson tells her story of growing up during the 60s and 70s, and she beautifully mingles the importance of the Civil Rights Movement into the telling of her story. However, what I found most intriguing is that Jacqueline, according to her teachers, “was not as smart as her sister.” But, she discovered that she loved to write, and a teacher confirmed that she could write, and now we have the 2015 Newbery Medal earning Brown Girl Dreaming.

I could not stop thinking about the teaching possibilities of this novel with children of all ages. In this book, Jacqueline mentions many of our African American heroes, and I am imagining a teacher reading this book aloud to her students and teaching mini lessons on the African American heroes that are mentioned in this book. Also, Jacqueline learned differently, and I can also imagine a teacher engaging students in talking about their learning styles.

This book was uplifting, beautifully crafted, relatable.... and I know that any person who gets his hands on this book will appreciate the story and the beauty of the writing. But, our little brown children will really appreciate this wonderful book that tells many of our stories in the most beautiful manner.

Jacqueline Woodson.... I appreciate you for telling this brown girl story!

Brown Folks, we got to continue to tell our stories.......

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

A while back, President Obama read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and he loved the book so much, it inspired him to invite Franzen to The White House. Well, I can go on and on about Freedom. I love that book so much. It is completely character driven, and the reader gets to know the most intimate parts of each character; we learn why each character does what he/she does. (I just love those stories where the author shows the complexity of being human.)

So, President Obama picked Fates and Furies as one of his favorite books of 2015. Being that I loved his selection of Freedom a while back, I had to give Fates and Furies a try, and it did not disappoint.


The fates part is all about this guy named Lotto whose life takes an unexpected turn, and we learn all about him and his life and what makes him who he is. He marries this girl named Mathilda after college, and in the furies part we learn all about Mathilda.

Through character development, we are able to fully understand each character and have full empathy for both of them. While I was reading this novel, I was wondering if we would have more fulfilling relationships with everyone in our lives if we knew why he/she did the things that he/she did. For instance, what makes a person shy away from the tough stuff, or what causes a person to blow up, or what causes a person to be completely driven.... If we knew these things, wouldn’t this solve a whole bunch of misunderstandings that are caused by many of us assuming why someone does what he does and acting on our assumptions. (However, life typically does not afford us to know many of the things that we would love to know.)

For instance, it appeared that Mathilda just happened to see Lotto and fall in love with him. However, we learn that there is much more to that meeting, and Lotto was never privy to those details. If he had known, would that had made a difference to him and maybe even impacted their relationship?

Based on President Obama’s love for Fates and Furies and Freedom, I would wager that he is a man who is concerned with human nature and what makes people tick. I am betting that in dealing with people, he is a person who seeks to understand before he jumps to a conclusion.... (I believe that the kind of books that we love can reveal a lot about us.)

My people, if you love human stories as much as I do and President Obama, then this is the book for you...


It is good to have a President who reads.....


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My people, life has been happening... Happening in a way where there are so many good and exciting yet scary things going on with my life until I have not had the time to get the books that are running around in my brain out on paper! However, I am not complaining, but I am actually trying to enjoy the ride!

So, here is the first book that has been dying to get out!

About a month or so before school ended, I did my choice novel unit with my students, and being that they all have their own computers, they were able to do a great, group project that I will share with you soon.

Anyway, many of the teachers in my school are giving students choice in what they read, and many of the students are reading and loving Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Even in my classroom, many students had read or wanted to read this book. After all of the hype about Thirteen Reasons Why, I decided to give it a try so that I could it discuss it with the students who were reading it.

One of the protagonist, Hannah Baker, has actually committed suicide, and she leaves behind a series of tapes explaining why she committed suicide. It took me a minute to get into this story, because the plot sort of moves slowly with the mixing of Hannah’s story with Clay Jenson’s story, the guy who is in possession of the tapes. However, Jay builds the suspense and makes this book one that makes the reader want to read to find out why Hannah killed herself.

My first thoughts were “Do we really want to expose students to a book that seems to be glorifying suicide?”

At first Hannah came across as a hero to me; the girl who is making her friends and foes feel bad about causing her to commit suicide. However, my students thought that this book was not about Hannah at all but was about the people who caused Hannah to commit suicide. They saw this as an anti-bullying book that can cause a person to think about how his action may effect another person. (I love discussing books with my students.) This was one of those ‘aha conversations’ that caused a shift in my thoughts, and because of that shift, I am highly recommending this book to middle and high school students; it is easy to read, deals with teenager issues, and just may cause a young adult to think about how his actions may impact the life of another person.

Adults, I am also encouraging you to read this book, because Hannah did reach out to a few adults, but the adults seemed to miss or just did not quite understand how to help her.

Heavy, easy read that students seem to love, and any book that gets students to read is a good book!

Happy Summer, My People!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell

My current county introduced the idea of giving high school students choice in what they read. For most of us, this idea seemed quite foreign; however, the Professional Learning Community (PLC) that I am part of decided to give this a try. We worked and worked and created some things, and last school year we gave this idea a try with much success.

This year, I have working to tweak what we did last year by doing some reading on choice novels. While researching, I stumbled upon this intriguing blog. The author of that blog, Pernille Ripp, is arguing the point that students should be given more choice in what they read. The blog was thought-provoking, but the comments about the blog were just as intriguing. People were totally agreeing with Ripp and others were on the opposite side of the fence. And, I must say that I am somewhere in the middle; I value whole class novels and choice novels equally, and right now, I incorporate both into my classroom. Several of the people who commented on the blog were highly recommending the book, The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell, and I felt that I must give it a try.

This book, The Reading Zone is a must read! Yep, I absolutely love this book.

Before I tell my thoughts about this book, let me tell you about a conversation that I had with someone whom I respect in education. He stated "We've been doing this for years." He was referring to the idea of allowing students choice. So, if you have been giving students choice for years, please share your ideas in the comment section. But, for me, the idea of choice in high school is still very, very new.

Nancie proposes that we turn students into readers by allowing them to read whatever they want to, and she gives suggestions on meaningful activities that can accompany the reading. She goes on to say that tons of high schools are doing the opposite; we are turning students off when it comes to reading. She notes that what we call rigor which often includes tons of note taking, essays in MLA format, and lots of questions to answer, turn students completely off.

Nancie proposes that teachers build in time to read in the classroom, that we have book talks about the books that students are reading, that we give students choice, and basically remember why most of us wanted to be English teachers in first place. And for most of us, that was to get students to love literature as much as we do.

After reading this book, I went to the other teacher who teaches Advanced Placement and proposed that we change our summer reading assignment from asking students to read one book that we selected, to giving students a list of books that we absolutely love and giving them the choice to read books from our list or selecting other books, as long as they read during the summer. Now, we will have no way of knowing if students read at all over the summer, but we also do not know if they ever really read the book that we assign.

My fellow elementary, middle and high school educators, please consider reading The Reading Zone!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Year of YES by Shonda Rhimes

My book club’s book for the month is The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes who is the writer and producer for shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. (You guys know that I do not watch TV, and I have not watched any of these shows.)

Upon first starting to read this book, I was intrigued, but it took me awhile to be drawn in. However, once Shonda pulled me into this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it also sparked me to do some self-reflection.

Based on this book, Shonda has always been a loner, introvert. Her sister casually said to her that she always says ‘No,’ and that comment literally caused Shonda to change her life. Shonda worked through her fear, got out of her comfort zone, and changed her life for the better. She said YES to speaking her own truth, her body, difficult conversations, to owning her own greatness etc.

Shonda writes about the idea that many women, including herself, do not like to take compliments, and if someone tells us that they like our dress, we will make a comment such as “This dress is old” instead of just saying “Thank You.” I’ve been practicing just saying “Thank You” and closing my mouth.

Shonda also talks about how she had to face the reality of her relationships with many of the people in her life: “Now that I see it, I can’t unsee it.... I feel sad. I’m grieving.. The loss is painful.” However, Shonda goes on to say that “The Upside of Culling people from my life is that my focus has become very clear.” (WOW) After reading the chapter on friendships, I realize that we must look at our relationships for what they are and not for what we want them to be and deal with them according... LIBERATING!! (We can love folks, even family members, and not have them in our personal space....LIBERATING!!)

I found it quite interesting that once Shonda decided to say YES for a year, she did not want to stop saying YES to her improved life: "One hundred twenty-seven pounds thinner, several toxic people lighter, a better mother, a better friend, a stronger leader, a more creative writer, a more honest person, more adventurous, more open, Brave...”

This is a fairly short, serious, yet humorous read that confirms the fact that we have the power to change our lives.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

My people, you guys know that I love some writers, and yes I do have some favorites: Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James McBride, James Baldwin.... BUT, I am going to have to put Paulo Coelho at the very top of my list. Yep, this guy is at the very top of my favorite authors' list.

I do believe that there are prophets still walking this earth, and I strongly believe that Paulo is one of them. He truly knows human nature, and he uses his writings to get readers to think about things such as love, fear, death, and sex in ways that just may solidify some things that we already know or to help us to think about these things from different perspectives. Every single time that I read one of his books, I am moved and changed.

In Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo deals with life, death, love, sanity....

Veronika, the main character, takes a lot of pills in the hopes of committing suicide. But, like in most books, there is no way that the protagonist is going to die in the beginning of the book. Veronika wakes up in a ‘lunatic asylum’ with someone saying to her “You’ve landed slap bang in hell, so you’d better make the most of it.” And, the rest of the book takes place mostly in the insane asylum.

Paulo takes us into the mind of Veronika and a few of the other patients in the insane asylum. It seems, through narration, that almost everyone in the insane asylum are there because they were living lives that he/she did not want to live. So, they escaped real life and ended up in the asylum. Paulo is trying to tell us something about the importance of being true to ourselves and overcoming every obstacle to live a life that gives us meaning.

In the asylum, Veronika and the other patients, realize that they could be whomever they want to be and do whatever they want to do without being judged; there was a sense of freedom on the inside. Veronika’s presence has an effect on several of the patients and causes them to exam their lives, and they decide to go out into the world and live their lives differently than they had before.

Inside, Veronika is drawn back into her passions of music and explores love and life.

My people, what would you do if you weren’t afraid????

Now, in real life Paulo Coelho was committed to a mental institution by his parents three times, because they thought that he must be mentally ill if he wanted to be a writer. He infuses this into the book, and mentions himself in third person. I found this very intriguing; haven’t seen to many authors do this before. This caused me to think about people who go against the norm and pursue their passions and appear to be crazy......

What would you do if you weren’t afraid????

This is a well-written, thought-provoking book that can cause a reader to think about his life, love, death, and the pursuit of happiness.

Paulo’s work should be read, read, and reread!!

Other blogs that I have written about books by Paulo:

The Alchemist 
Eleven Minutes

Happy Sunday, My People!!!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Color of Water by James McBride

I found this book, The Color of Water, to be quite fascinating.....

James tells the story of his White mother raising twelve Black children, and they all graduated from college and went on to have successful careers.

Now, here are a few things that I have been reflecting on since finishing this book:

James’ mother, Ruth, first husband died when she was pregnant with her eighth child. After he died, she married another man and had four more children. James is the child that she was pregnant with when her first husband died. So, of course James does not talk about what her life was like when his mother and father were raising the seven children together. So, based on this book, the reader can not determine if Ruth raised her children differently when her husband was alive. However, based on James’ recollection, his mother was not a good housekeeper, not a good cook, and she seemed to not be a great decision maker either; however, she managed to send all twelve of her children to college.

Now, when we think about education and children at risk, it would appear that these children should have been perfect candidates to drop out school: poor and living in the projects. However, college was in their future. James even talked about a period of his life, during high school, when he stopped going to school for awhile, but it was already instilled in him, maybe from seeing his older siblings go off to college or by his mother, that he would go to college. His mom gave him the bus fair, and off he went to college.

My people, we know that this strong women did quite a few things right, and I am curious to know what were some of the determining factors that contributed to this incredible woman sending all of her children to college, and they went on to become doctors, teachers, writers, nurses etc.

Also, since reading this book, I have been thinking about public transportation. Yes, public transportation!! I read this article that was talking about poverty in the South and places where there is limited to no public transportation and how the lack of public transportation negatively impacts the poor.

So, in New York, James’ family had no trouble getting around because of public transportation. However, once they moved to Delaware, without a car, even going to the grocery story was a big deal and could be quite costly. The lack of public transportation drastically changed their lives. Now, I know that the lack of public transportation greatly impacts the poor, and I am not sure what we should do about it, but I know that we should do something.

Race, Race, Race was throughout this book!!!

James did not seem to even notice that his mother was White until other people brought it to his attention by saying inappropriate comments or staring. Which leads me to believe that racism is definitely taught. Also, Ruth was estranged from her entire White, Jewish family, her father was a Rabbi, because she married a Black man. She made her way into the Black community, and that is where she stayed for most of her adult life. She refused to talk about race or being White until she was asked by James in order to write this book. James nor his siblings did not know until the writing of this book that they had White, Jewish blood running through their veins.

This book confirms that race is complex and rules this country, and I am not sure what we can do about this.

Ruth went to Temple University at the age of sixty-five and earned a degree in social work, and she used that degree after she earned it. “She worked as a volunteer in a Philadelphia social service agency that helped pregnant unwed mothers; then she moved on to run a weekly reading group for literate and illiterate senior citizens at the local library.”

This, I found fascinating and made me think about my own 80 year old mother who wants to go to her senior activities every day; folks need purpose. I just believe that we need to stop living when we die and not one day before....

This is a well-written thought provoking book that I think is very relevant to add to the conversations on race that we are having today. Consider reading this book to get another perspective on being Black in America.

By the way, I read the Good Lord Bird which is also by James McBride, and I loved every word. You may want to try that one also.

Let’s get busy, My People!
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