Friday, October 17, 2014

to change the world for the better

This graphic novel arrived in the mail yesterday: In Real Life, written by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang. On the car ride to school today, V couldn't stop talking about it.

So, today, I read it…  and it knocked me over. The book is worth its weight in gold for the introduction alone. Here's a taste...
In Real Life is a book about games and economics.
When you put economics and games together, you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a bunch of sticky, tough questions about politics and labor. In Real Life connects the dots between the way we shop, the way we organize, and the way we play, and why some people are rich, some are poor, and how they seem to get stuck there.
I hope that readers of this book will be inspired to dig deeper into the subject of behavioral economics and to start asking hard questions about how we end up with the stuff we own, what it costs our human brothers and sisters to make those goods, and why we think we need them.

This short graphic novel takes on gold-farming in online games, from an economic and social perspective. It also explores the concept of having a separate online identity, specifically for teenagers who may still be forming a “real life” identity; and feminism and the myriad ways it ties into those first two items.

This is a great book for teens and tweens who want to start thinking big about injustice, our rights, organizing, and changing the world for the better.
All that is sweet was paid for, once upon a time, by principled people who risked everything to change the world for the better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Our differences are our superpowers.

"I love El Deafo! It's everything you could
want in a book: funny and touching and oh so smart."
- R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder

I had to wait behind both of my kids to read El Deafo by Cece Bell, but it was worth the wait. It's a graphic novel memoir, full of universal emotions and unique perspectives.

Cece suffers an illness at age four that results in a hearing loss. And, as only a graphic novel can illustrate, we get to see what that feels like:

It's brilliantly clever.

El Deafo deals with being different beautifully, honestly, and lovingly. It's no wonder that R.J. Palacio loves it. This book, like Wonder, is for anyone who wants help turning their difference into a superpower. So, really, it's a book for everyone.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book. It is wonderfully profound and honest.

Here's a sample:
Today, I view my deafness as more of an occasional nuisance, and oddly enough, as a gift: I can turn off the sound of the world any time I want, and retreat into peaceful silence.
And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers

Friday, September 12, 2014

we should be brave

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Maggie Mayfield is eleven years old, future president of the United States, and fifth grade science fair champion. Maggie is a super smart achiever who loves school. This smart, compassionate story is written as a flashback when Maggie turns twelve.

It is a beautiful story of a family. Maggie's father faces a diagnosis of MS (multiple sclerosis), and we see how it affects the family as a whole.

All that was happening wasn't just happening to me. It was happening to all five of us. And all of us were scared. All of us were confused. And none of us knew what was going to happen next. 
"Should we be scared?"Mom knelt in front of me. "We shouldn't be scared, honey. Not even a little." She took my hand and squeezed. "We should be brave."

This book is for all tweens who are trying to have a 'normal' life while dealing with something BIG.  You'll laugh at the footnotes and cry at the heartbreak. If you are faced with a great challenge, you'll find hope in Maggie's journey.
"And while there wasn't any scientific evidence, I believed with all my heart that the world progressed one wish at a time."
This story is inspired by the author's real family experiences with MS. In the Acknowledgements Megan writes:
Thank you to my family for letting me tell our story. Thank you to my mom. You're terrible at cutting bangs but you're an incredibly cool, strong, courageous, and beautiful woman. I hope I'm just like you when I grow up. Thank you to my sister Rayna for answering my desperate phone calls. You're always so encouraging and helpful even when your children are screaming in the background. I totally get why you were Dad's favorite. Thank you to my sister Alison for paying me ten dollars every time you skipped school. We could not be more different. And not just in bra size. But I love you. No matter how many times you lock me out of your room.
How could you not want to read a story based on this family?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I love novels written in verse.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautiful memoir written in magnificent verse. It is poetic and engrossing; I lingered over every page.

I highly recommend this gorgeous book. Get it into the hands of a reader.

You'll read it, and re-read it, and read pages aloud to anyone near by.

"Listen to this…" you'll say, and begin reading:

My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way, my mother said,
of every baby's hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm's - raised and fisted
or Martin's - open and asking
or Jame's - curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
or Ruby's
gently gloved
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
to change the world...

Or you will read a page over and over again, wondering once more about the times you have been the only one like you in a room...

William Woodson
the only brown boy in an all-white school.

You'll face this in your life someday,
my mother will tell us
over and over again.
A moment when you walk into a room and

no one there is like you.

It'll be scary sometimes. But think of William Woodson
and you'll be all right.

An author's Note and photos follow the text… they are a lovely gift from the author.

Monday, September 8, 2014

believe in the possible

Over the weekend I read The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L Holm.

It's a middle grade book that is funny and clever and fascinating. But, I loved it most because it is about science. It asks big questions, introduces technical details, names famous scientists, and discusses controversial issues. And… it may have the best first chapter ever in a middle grade novel. 

It's the story of eleven-year-old Ellie and, among many things, she is starting middle school. Ellie leads readers into the wonders of science, the big questions about life and death, the idea of family, the conviction of friendship, the perception of immortality… and possibility.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end of the book:
All the scientists mentioned in this book were real people. The discoveries of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Robert Oppenheimer, and Jonas Salk changed the world in ways that still echo today.
You, too, can be a scientist. Observe the world around you. Ask questions. Talk to your teachers. Don't give up.
Be inspired by the scientists who came before you, and fall in love with discovery.
Most of all, believe in the possible.

Also, at the end of the book, there's a wonderful section called: Recommended Resources for Continuing the Conversation. Thank you, Jennifer Holm, for keeping our curiosity going.

Here is my favorite bit:
"Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible"
"The possible?" 
"That it's possible to create a cure for polio. That it's possible to sequence the human genome. That it's possible to find a way to reverse aging. That science can change the world." 

Well, and then there's this, too:
"Science is powerful. There are always consequences - wonderful and terrible. I suppose I lost my way for a moment in all the excitement and forgot what Salk said."
"What did he say?"
His eyes meet mine. "Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors." 

If you know a middle grade reader, get 'The Fourteenth Goldfish' by Jennifer Holm. Read it along with them or read it aloud to them. Ask questions. Observe the world. Be inspired by scientists. But most of all, believe in the possible. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

but I'm in love

I am setting up some new bookshelves after a remodel. Unpacking loads of books; it's always enjoyable for me to remember what I've read and think back on when I read it.

So many of my books are dogeared and scribbled in. It is a wonderful way to record a history of learning, of new ideas, and beliefs freshly formed.

It made me remember a Billy Collins poem I adore:

By Billy Collins
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil–
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet–
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

If you'd like to hear Billy Collins read Marginalia, just click HERE.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Did you just call me Gandhi?

Last week I read the third Justin Case book, Justin Case: Rules, Tools, and Maybe a Bully. I absolutely love the Justin Case books written by Rachel Vail and illustrated by Matthew Cordell.

Maybe I love these books so much because I adore the character Justin Case and everything he teaches me about parenting…   or maybe I love them because I have my very own Justin Case:

In this new book, Justin begins fourth grade and there are new friends, new teachers, new rules, and playing the recorder. It's a lot for one "worried kid" to manage. 

The books are written in 'diary style' or journal format.

December 13, Monday is one of my absolute favorite entries! Here's a little sample:
"Plus," I said, "wouldn't it just be wrong? To say I would hurt him, and especially to then actually hurt him? Because, remember? Violence solves nothing. Right?"
"Sure, Gandhi," Mom answered. "But meanwhile, here you sit, my baby, with a black eye, so …"
"Never mind."
"Did you just call me Gandhi?"
She sighed.
"My name is Justin."
"I know," Mom said. She kissed my cheek. "You're a good boy, Justin."

And December 26, Sunday:
Mom was standing at the back door, holding her coffee mug, looking out into the yard, where everything was glittery white. The snow was falling in fist-size flakes.
I stood next to her and watched too. First snow of the whole year.
She put her arm around me, so I leaned against her. She didn't ask, How's everything going? or Did anything weird happen at school this week? We just stood there in the quiet and watched the snow come down together.
If you are a fan of the Justin Case books, this third book is not to be missed.

If you haven't met Justin Case yet, be sure to begin at book one: Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters.