Saturday, February 28, 2015

how perilous

I pre-ordered Ally Carter's new book All Fall Down: An Embassy Row Novel. When it arrived I couldn't remember who had told me to read it. Was it a John Green recommendation? A New York Times favorite? I can't remember. It is the first in a series of  YA political thrillers - not usually my style.




But I did like it, and I can see teens flocking to the strong-willed, rebellious heroine, Grace.

The book is set in an American Embassy in the fictional country of Adria. 
"On Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall."

One of my favorite parts of the book: 
We walk silently down the gallery, the portraits looming large over us - kings and queens still keeping a watchful eye over the land so many people had died for.
"What about them?" I ask, pointing to the only portrait in the room that shows an entire family.
"Oh, well, in many ways, they are our most famous royals." The prime minister laughs, but it is not a joyful sound. "That is King Alexander the Second, his wife, and their two sons. There was a daughter, too, but she was just a baby at the time - so young they hadn't even commissioned a portrait of her yet. Alexander ruled during a terrible famine. The wells were dry. The crops were dead. And almost the entire region was at war. The people were hungry and frightened, and they grew to distrust the monarchy. One night, the royal guard rebelled. They left their posts and threw open the gates. The people stormed the palace and dragged Alexander and his family from their beds."
"They were murdered?" I ask.
The prime minister nods grimly. "Power has always corrupted, my dear. Even the promise of power. It is a hard thing to look at through a fence for hundreds of years without wondering what it would be like on the other side."
"But Adria still has a royal family?" I say, confused.
"We do indeed," the prime minister says. "The great tragedy began what is known as the War of the Fortnight. In the end, the rebels surrendered and the king's brother took up the throne. The monarchy was restored - this time with a house of parliament and a prime minister." He gives a slight bow, as if the tale had conjured him out of magic.

I think I loved this part of the story because I had just read the book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. And, I had just watched the Crash Course video on Iran's revolutions... and V is studying about the French Revolution and we were just discussing the Habsburg family. But, maybe I loved it the most for Grace's realization and following comment:
"I look back at the painting of the dead king and queen and the two little princes who were dragged from their beds. For the first time I realize how perilous peace can be. I appreciate the tightrope that my grandfather has spent his whole life trying to walk. And now, more than ever, I grow terrified that I am going to make us all fall down."

This is a great book for teens who like reading about political intrigue, exploring the idea of nationalism, and the illusion of power.

Two quotes to keep in mind as you read All Fall Down:
"Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best."  - Edward  Abbey  
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." - Lord  Acton 
Get this book for the teens you know who are studying politics and revolution. Get it for those you know who love guarded secrets and surprising revelations.

Friday, February 27, 2015

the wanderings

I read the book, All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. If you know a teen, you should definitely share this book with them.



The blurb on All The Bright Places is:

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

But, I don't think that's fair. I loved The Fault In Our Stars and Eleanor and Park, but I think ATBP has the potential to be loved on its own - not in comparison to other books. 

It's a book about mental illness and suicide and post traumatic stress and anguish and beauty and romance and being a teen.
"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places."  - Ernest Hemingway

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of a bell tower at school - six stories above the ground - it's unclear who saves whom.

I loved this book. There was even a reference to Candy Chang's Before I Die walls - which I have always loved since they began in New Orleans.
"Before I die... it says on what looks like a giant chalkboard. And there below these giant white letters are column after column, line after line, that say Before I die I want to ________________. And the blanks have been filled in with different colors of chalk, smudged and half melted from the rain and snow, in all different handwriting.
We walk along reading. Before I die I want to have kids. Live in London. Own a pet giraffe. Skydive. Divide by zero. Play the piano. Speak French. Write a book. Travel to a different planet. Be a better dad than mine was. Feel good about myself. Go to New York City. Know equality. Love."

This book will inspire many wonderful conversations. If you are a teen, read it with your parents and friends. If you are a parent, read it with your teen. Start a wandering of your own. Read the Author's Note together. Talk about suicide and mental illness. Ask each other about abuse and bullying and ways to help. Talk about beauty and the poetry of Virginia Woolf.

Read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven before it becomes a movie. You'll be glad you did!
"The thing I realize is that it's not what you take, it's what you leave." - Ultraviolet Remarkey-able



Thursday, February 26, 2015

some people just really like donuts

"You can't get to where you're going without being where you've been."


"And you couldn't be anywhere at all without having been almost there for a while."

I recently read the book Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff and I can't stop thinking about it. I keep wondering how Albie is getting on now.

Albie is a thoughtful, middle-grade character. You will be cheering for him and his average abilities right from the get-go. Albie struggles at school, is harassed by bullies, and pressured to excel by his parents. 

Albie is not the smartest, or the tallest, or the most athletic, or the most musical, or the best artist. But Albie is endearing and thoughtful. He is almost good at many things, but not quite good enough - academically he is plodding along in a below average way.

Readers will root for Albie. Kids will adore his babysitter, Calista, and wish they could be part of Math Club with Mr. Clifton.
"I hoped I could accidentally do math some more. It turned out that was the best way to do it."
Get this book for readers you know who are thoughtful, who are perceptive, who are wonderful at noticing, who are average or just below average.

Get this book for the parents you know who are still learning how to parent the wonderful children they have, rather than the exceptional children they wish they had.

This book will help you be who you are - I'm absolutely almost certain of it.





Thursday, February 12, 2015

That's the truth.

"The mountain was calling me. I had to run away. I had to."


 I read Dan Gemeinhart's debut novel, The Honest Truth. This book is full of how unfair it feels to try and control the uncontrollable. Luckily, there are angles among us that can lend a hand in so many small ways.

I picked up this book based on a Goodreads blurb from Donalyn Miller:

"A spare, beautiful story about the importance of love and life in the face of death. The friendship between Mark and Jess touched me, and Beau joins the Pantheon of unforgettable dogs in books. A must-own book."    - Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer

The Honest Truth is an adventure journey that does not disappoint, and Beau definitely is an unforgettable dog. I was left gasping for breath with my hands on my heart at the end of Chapter 12. Let me know if you were too!


This is a wonderful story about living the big questions and the small moments. I loved it. Middle-grade readers will love it too.
"I didn't say anything. Sometimes even the right answers sound wrong if you don't like the question. That's the truth." -Mark, The Honest Truth

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fish in a Tree - Fantasticos


I just read Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. This book is for every kid whose talents lie somewhere outside the stereotypical school room... and isn't that most of us?  It's also for every teacher who dreams of inspiring young people.
"It's a good thing to be an out-of-the-box thinker. People like that are world-changers"



Everybody is a genius. Your passion in art or science or baking or compassion or mechanics or engineering or whatever... that's where your intelligence lies; not in a classroom test, not in a worksheet.

Ally is in sixth grade and struggles with reading. You will love her grit, her friends, and her new teacher Mr. Daniels.

Here are a few of my favorite parts:

on not fitting in...
"I wish she could understand my world. But it would be like trying to explain to a whale what it's like to live in a forest."
on labels...
"And then I think that if someone hung a sign on me that said anything, having that sign there wouldn't make it so. But people have been calling me "slow" forever. Right in front of me as if I'm too dumb to know what they're talking about.
People act like the words "slow reader" tell them everything that's inside. Like I'm a can of soup and they can just read the list of ingredients and know everything about me. There's lots of stuff about the soup inside that they can't put on the label, like how it smells and tastes and makes you feel warm when you eat it. There's got to be more to me than just a kid who can't read well."
on the power of words... 
"And I think of words. The power that they have. How they can be waved around like a wand - sometimes for good, like how Mr. Daniels uses them. How he makes kids like me and Oliver feel better about ourselves. And how words can also be used for bad. To hurt."
on empathy... 
"And looking around the room, I remember thinking that my reading differences were like dragging a concrete block around every day, and how I felt sorry for myself. Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy." 

One of my favorite pages in the book, oddly enough, was before the book began, in the dedication:



My other favorite page was at the end, in the Letter to the Reader...




Be a world-changer. Get this book for the kids you know. Get this book for the teachers you know. Get this book for anyone who is ready to set the world on fire.



Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Port Chicago 50 (final)



I don't know about you, but I felt like I had a front row seat at the trial of the Port Chicago 50. I liked how the author used excerpts from the trial transcript to give us a primary source narrative.

The Port Chicago 50 were tried and convicted of the outrageous charge of mutiny.

Our legal rights have so many layers: there are civil rights, political rights, and social rights. 

  • Can you name some groups of people who have had to fight for equal protection under the law?


This book began with a hero and ended with the emerging Civil Rights movement and its heroes. 

  • Can you think of anyone who you consider a Civil Rights hero today?
  • Can you think of any time recently where you have seen people marching or protesting for their civil rights?
  • What stories are unfolding in your community, or in the U.S., or around the world regarding civil rights?


After reading this story, the word that keeps coming to my mind is... unfinished.  This was an account of a time in history, but I feel that we are still living parts of this story. 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Port Chicago 50 (The Fifty)


"Man it was awful," Jack Crittenden remembered. "You'd see a head floating across the water - just the head - or an arm."

For several days after the explosion, men with only minor injuries were given the task of clean up and body recovery. There were no living witnesses of the blast. No one who was on the boats or pier that night survived.

There is a great podcast of This American Life entitled 'The Job That Takes Over Your Life.' Listen to Act Three: The Port Chicago 50.

If you were a survivor of such a horrific night, would you return to work in the same unsafe conditions? 

Of the 328 surviving black enlistees, fifty men refused to return to work without a change in Navy procedures. Those fifty men were charged and convicted of mutiny. Mutiny, they were told, was punishable by death. It was the largest mutiny trial in the Navy's history.

From The History Channel:
"Six weeks of hearings followed in which the prosecution alleged that the men had “conspired each with the other to mutiny against the lawful authority of their superior naval officers.” The case caught the attention of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was then working as a legal counsel for the NAACP. Marshall sat in on the last few days of the proceedings, and later argued, “This is not 50 men on trial for mutiny. This is the Navy on trial for its whole vicious policy toward negroes.” But despite the protests of Marshall and others, it took only 80 minutes of deliberation for the court to find the 50 black sailors guilty. Each man was sentenced to between eight and 15 years hard labor and a dishonorable discharge from the Navy."

These chapters have been a fascinating and painful look into the birth of the civil rights movement. How would you compare the racism and segregation experienced by The Port Chicago 50 to racism and segregation today? What about institutionalized racism and segregation?

Also, what, in your opinion, constitutes a "mutiny"?

And… When is doing something wrong right?

Let's read these chapters: Treasure Island, Prosecution, Joe Small, The Verdict, and Hard Labor. Check back here on December 28th.