Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Synopsis from B&N:
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

My Thoughts:
Clare Vanderpool was inspired to write Moon Over Manifest because of a book she saw about stolen maps that started with the quote from Moby Dick, "It is not down in any map; true places never are."

This book, for me, created a very true place.  It created a very true place for many readers; that is a hometown.  A town where everyone has a story, and everyone knows your story-- and knows, perhaps, more than you.  There is something intriguing about what came before you.  What happened before you came into the world.  Stories that our parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors know that we don't. Histories. I thought that Vanderpool weaved this story so well, and revealed it through Miss Sadie's stories so that you discovered the story just as Abilene did. 

The main character, Abilene, was such a paradox.  She felt like an outsider in this place where her past and her connection to Manifest was deep, though she didn't know it.  Readers who have never found their roots in one place can respond to Abilene's feelings of displacement.  That feeling of, where do I belong?  On the other hand, readers who are from a small town and find themselves irrevocably connected to that life can appreciate the claustrophobic-like connection of the people of Manifest.

"Miss Sadie breathed in again. 'He comes to America on a boat, yes.  But to Manifest, he comes by train.  A train for orphans.  He stays with the Sisters for a time.  Sister Redempta cares for him.  But he is a little boy, five years old, of undetermined nationality, so he belongs to all the people.  Of course, it is Hadley Gillen, the widower hardware store owner, who adopts him as his own.  But the town grows to love the boy and imagine that his future can be theirs as well.' "


"It also bothered me that I didn't have a story. 'Telling a story ain't hard,' Lettie had said. 'All you need is a beginning, middle, and end.'

But that was the problem. I was all middle.  I'd always been between the last place and the next.  How was I supposed to come up with a story for Sister Redempta or even a 'Remember when...' to reminisce on with somebody else? But then, I wouldn't be here when school started anyway, I reminded myself."

In the Classroom:
This book is appropriate for middle grade readers who can stick with a story.  It is not action-packed or very suspenseful, but a reader who can follow multiple story lines and can handle a story with a lot of flashbacks will really enjoy this beautiful book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slice #22 - Behind the Scenes

I love hearing about authors writing.  Where they write. What inspires them. Life happens to them, too! What could have been a Slice of Life for Lois Lowry turned into a book! It's like being able to sit on the stage and peak behind the curtains.  It reminds me how important it is to make my own writing process visible for my student writers.  It may not fascinate them the way I'm fascinated by my favorite authors, but it's worth a shot!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Slice #21 - The One Where I Meet Lois Lowry

I love our local independent bookstore.  Anderson's always brings in the best authors.  Tonight, I got to hear Lois Lowry speak about her new book, Bless this Mouse. Sometimes visiting authors just sign their books.  Tonight was a treat! Forty-five minutes of Lois sharing stories! The quote of the evening, "I started writing children's books because I realized that I could end up writing something that a 12-year-old reads that could change their life.  You can't do that with a 55-year-old."  I love this quote.  It reminds me of why I got into teaching.  Very powerful. 

P.S. - Lois shared that she is currently writing the 4th book in The Giver set (another companion book) about the character Gabriel!  Also, she is meeting with Sean Astin next week to discuss the Number the Stars movie progress! Exciting!!

Slice #20 - Monthly Breakfast

Every last Sunday of every month, my family gets together for breakfast.  Aunts, cousins, uncles. We all get together at a preselected restaurant and catch-up, laugh, share stories, and eat.  Some restaurants are better than others.  Some, more crowded than others.  Some, we overtake with our laughter. Others, we are but a fraction of the racket.  Regardless of who could make it, what I ordered, what was shared, I love these last Sundays.  What a treasure.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Slice #19 - Eat your hearts out.

There's something to be said for the classic hot dog and fries combo.  For the greasy, crispy regular fry.  For the juicy hotdog topped, Chicago-style.  Dill pickle, onions, relish, ketchup, peppers, and pepper on a poppy seed bun.  Forget diets.  Forget vegan.  Forget whole foods.  Every once in a while, we shouldn't feel guilty for the All-American hot dog and fries combo.  With a coke.  Thank goodness for Portillo's.  The red-and-white-striped styrofoam cup starts glands salivating for miles around.  Eat your heart out, friends! 

Slice #18 - Sorry I'm late, all these books got in the way.

They call my  name and jockey for position.  They tap their feet and lay their heads on their arms, waiting, hoping.  They rehearse their lines and prepare for the day their pages will get a breath of fresh air.  A resting place on the nighstand doesn't ensure your position in line.  They have to be ready on a whim.  Does she want nonfiction next? Is it poetry that will soothe her soul? Will she call up an old classic and dust off its pages? What if the hold at the library finally becomes available -- where does that leave us? I have no answers.  All I can say to them is: Summer is just around the corner!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Slice #17 - March Madness

In the middle of the madness that is March, I find that priorities change, and new goals surface.  Struggling to find a balance between work and life (and the new changes in life), I have had to revise some habits.  I have had to adjust what I do with my time at school so that I can spend more quality time during my non-school hours with those closest to me, doing the things that build a rich life.  I never "got" how veteran teachers with families did it.  Now that I look closer, I see that they are "doing it" by being smarter with their time.  Really prioritizing what they do.  Saying "no" when they need to. Making their picks.

So, lately, I've been making some picks of my own.  I choose to sit on the couch with my love's hand in my hand, rather than a grading pen touched to a rubric.  I choose to get up earlier, instead, to get that grading done in the quiet of my classroom well before students arrive.  I choose to make a nice meal for dinner, rather than staying late, organizing the stacks on my desk. I choose to organize immediately - everything in its place, right away - instead. I choose a life that is rich with material for my slices!  There will be upsets, cinderella stories, smiles, and tears.  The changes are slowly but surely coming around, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Slice #16 - Stuck in the Middle With You

Slices in the middle of the month are like middle children. Those that came before got all the attention.  They got the most praise for the tiniest thing. This time around, the attention is waning. 

Slices in the middle of the month are like the eye of a tornado.  All around you swirls the pieces of your life. Here and there some tangible something catches your eye, but mostly things are just flying by. 

Slices in the middle of the month are like the the line at Six Flags.  You jumped on even though you knew the time commitment.  You know the ride is going to be worth it in the end, but it's getting hot and putting one foot in front of the other is getting harder and harder.

Slices in the middle of the month are like the buffet at Old Country Buffet, minus the guilt or bellyache.  You feel comfortable trying a little bit of this or a little bit of that. 

Slices in the middle of the month is where we're at, and I'm happy to be here with you!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Slice #15

I am composing this Slice from my iPhone.
I can't figure out how to add an image from my album.
I even tried copy and paste.

Here's what that got me:

My iPhone can do many things, but nothing beats hammering out a Slice on the good ole laptop.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Slice #14 - Simmer

On Sunday, I bought the ingredients for lasagna.  That afternoon, I chopped the basil and parsley, browned the italian sausage and beef, sauteed it with the onions and garlic.  I slowly added the crushed tomatoes, sauces, and pastes.  I stirred in the sugar, salt, and pepper.  Then I let it simmer for an hour and a half. Then came the layering. Noodles, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan, the sauce.  Fifty minutes in the oven.  Bubbly and golden cheese on top when the time dinged.

Did we enjoy the lasagna Sunday evening? No.  We shared a spicy tuna roll.  The lasagna? We saved it for tonight.  For that hour we have to spend together.  Sandwiched between afterschool meetings and evening pilates. 

This reminds me of the writing process.  Slowly adding in the ingredients.  Saving bits and pieces for that right moment when you might need it.  Letting it simmer.  Then, pulling it out at just the right time to savor it.

The sauce after simmering for 90 minutes

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Slice #13 - You Came In With the Breeze, On Sunday Morning

This was my Sunday Morning.  I let all other responsibilities go and succumbed to relaxation and went wherever the breeze took me.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Slice #12 - These shoes were made for..


They say a lot about a person.  Of the four, you can probably detect which ones belong to my fiance, and which three are mine!

The pair on the right are the sneakers I wore to school on Friday (the day of the week staff members usually wear jeans and school gear).

The heels I slid into on my way to a cover band Friday night (embracing my non-teacher self).  At the end of the night, my feet literally sighed with relief as I slid out of them and the heels of my feet came back down to earth.

And the boots my feet snuggled into while running errands into what turned out to be a cold, windy Saturday.  My toes were grateful for the sweater-like wrappings on this blustery day.

Soon, I look forward to the freedom of flip-flops, my feet learning to exist for a few months without the boundary of shoes.

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos

Synopsis from B&, Maria, and Lola are just like the other eighth-grade girls in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook, New Jersey. They want to go to the spring dance, they love spending time with their best friends after school, sharing frappÉs and complaining about the other kids. But there’s one big difference: all three are daughters of maids and nannies. And they go to school with the very same kids whose families their mothers work for.

That difference grows even bigger—and more painful—when Jaya’s mother is accused of theft and Jaya’s small, fragile world collapses.

When tensions about immigrants start to erupt, fracturing this perfect, serene suburb, all three girls are tested, as outsiders—and as friends. Each of them must learn to find a place for themselves in a town that barely notices they exist.
Marina Budhos gives us a heartbreaking and eye-opening story of friendship, belonging, and finding the way home.

My Thoughts:
Overall, I enjoyed the novel Tell Us We're Home.  I appreciated that Budhos included the stories of three girls from different minority backgrounds.  Maria from Mexico, Jaya from Trinidad, and Lola from Slovakia.  She didn't rely on stereotypes for the background stories of the girls.  They had unique families who I think are shown struggling with issues that many American families face.  Depression, money issues, unemployment.

As a minority who grew up in a mostly middle-upper class, mostly-white community, I was able to emphathize with the characters of Jaya, Maria, and Lola.  The only difference for me was that I felt untied to any culture in particular, and struggled to figure out how I fit into my environment at school and with friends.  I had to learn a lot from observing others in how to act, talk, and develop.  I think I still struggle with issues of culture, even as an adult, living in the same area I grew up, but teaching students who come from a more culturally rich background and maybe expect me to share their history - which I (in some ways, unfortunately) don't.

She touched on one nerve that really hit home for me and spoke truths that I didn't realize I held. This scene describes Maria at the home of a sympathetic, well-off boy who she is tutoring in Spanish.  This is her first visit to his home:

"She noticed, hanging on one wall, large framed black-and-white photographs of a little boy - Tash, she realized. They weren't the usual snapshots or posed pictures her own family took at the photography studio in Union City, all the cousins in frilly dresses and suits, gathered stiffly before a frosted blue backdrop.  These were like glamorous Ralph Lauren advertisements.  Tash at the beach pushing his toes into the sand; close-up Tash laughing on a swimg; moody shirtless teenage Tash reading on a screened-in porch.  All together they made a silent film story of Tash, its plotline clear: This boy's life is marvelous and picturesque.  It gave Maria a tiny sore pain, realizing how this was another way to be rich.  His parents gave him back his own self, strung from these beautiful images, and crafted into a story.  It's as if they were saying, This is who you are to the world.  Everything about you matters."


In the Classroom:
This book is appropriate for middle school girls.  There are one or two instances of questionable language, but other than that, the situations and dialogue are appropriate for middle grades. I would put it on my classroom shelf.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Slice #11 - All Caught Up

I've been behind since week one, so I might be breaking the rules, but I had to do another Slice today so that my slice number matched up with the date again!!

I'm all caught up with my slices and
I'm all caught up in the planning of a marriage!

We will soon send out what was sent to us in this box.  Our family and friends will soon share in the love we've been all caught up with since we met each other.

I love being all caught up!  Ah.

Slice #10 - Pedicures were invented for teachers

I swear, pedicures were invented with teachers in mind.  The massage chairs, the foot soak, the pampering.  How do they know just what a teacher needs on a Friday afternoon??

If Pedicure was a greek goddess, she would be my favorite myth story.  Easing the pain of educators from atop Mount Olympus.  Bringing comfort to man and woman alike.  Transforming woman's foot with a touch.  I would worship her and spread the news of her powers far and wide.  Then, after all that walking, I'd head back to Olympus for another Pedi.

Me and two colleagues for a Friday afternoon treat!
Happy St. Patty's Day!

Slice #9 - Flat Stanley is Here

There's nothing like a flat man to put some perspective on things! Flat Stanley is a world-traveler.  He'll visit places I've never even heard of!  He's an inspiration for all in how to live life to the fullest!  Flat Stanley is the ultimate SLICE OF LIFE! 

I hope I can show him a good time!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Slice #8 - It's Time!

4:49 a.m. - silence, rest, breaths, dreams

4:50 a.m. - alarming, singing, snoozing, snoozing

5:20 a.m. - rise, stretch, shine, shower

6:40 a.m. - gather, pack, load, exit

7:52 a.m. - click, clack, stack, prep

7:53 a.m. - loudly, dramatically, energetically, playfully

8:00 a.m. - ponder, reflect, comprehend, share

11:23 a.m. - ravenously, thunderously, wildly, hungrily

2:16 p.m. - artsy, harmonious, skillful, creative

3:00 p.m. - bump, run, slam, dash

3:05 p.m. - click, clack, stack, prep

4:30 p.m. - gather, pack, load, exit

11:00 p.m. - silence, rest, breath, dreams

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Slice #7 - Happy International Women's Day! Still I Rise...

In honor of International Women's Day and inspired by Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise"

Does my radio station surprise you?
Turn it up and hear,
It's tuned to NPR, it's true.
But, see, US Weekly's nearby, too.

Judge me, stereotype me,
But those who know me
know it's true.
I stretch, I reach, I open my mind to all world views.

Does my book queue exhaust you?
Take a look and see,
I've got Gruen, Horowitz, Lupica,
but more than just those three.

I carry the weight of being
the first to graduate, be wise.
Challenge me, push me, question me,
still, like dreams, I rise.

Does my ethnicity perplex you?
Dark hair, tan skin, those eyes.
My last name gives no hint,
still, like queens, I rise.

I fit no mold or pattern,
my future is my own,
I'm no angel, but neither are you,
remember that before you cast your stones.

From the love of mi familia,
I rise.
Out of the shadow of poverty,
I rise.
On the shoulders of my sisters,
I rise.
From my womb, my children, my dreams, my love will someday

Monday, March 7, 2011

Slice #6 - Of Pilates and Personal Time

Stretching, flexing, breathing, tightening, relaxing.  If you've ever done Pilates, you know what a full-body workout it is.  In order to get the most out of movements, you need to engage your entire body.  Sometimes, when one of us tries to close our eyes and imagine the pain away, our instructor says, "Open your eyes! BE in the room!" Experiencing the physicality of Pilates is part of the deal.  Experiencing what is happening to your body with each movement is purposeful.  The strain of your muscles, the presence of the work is meaningful. 

Though it's hard to devote an hour (plus travel time, 20 minutes round trip) twice during the school week and again on Saturday mornings, when I have a to-do list from here to Cancun (which is part of the reason for Pilates), I can't imagine a better gift for myself than this time.  To BE in the room.  Exercise energizes me, connects me to my body, lets me reflect on the day, and helps me feel motivated to keep doing the other work that is meaningful....loving, teaching, living.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Slice #5 Is there an App for this?

I admit it.  I'm an addict.

I am addicted to downloading apps for my iPhone.  There's one app in particular that gets my blood pumping.

It's called Awesome Note.

It's Awesome.  It organizes my life and gives me the satisfaction of "checking off" my to-dos.  For a mega-procrastinating, disorganized, do-it-all like me, this has been the best download. It keeps my busy life organized all in one spot.  No, Awesome Note is not paying me for this Slice.  But for those of you who have a lot on your plate (who doesn't!), you can't go wrong with this!

I even have a reminder to do my Slices of Life!  Lots more to do tonight!

Time to cross another "to-do" off my list!!

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer has been named:
2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner
2011 Newbery Honor Book
2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction
2010 National Book Award Finalist
Junior Library Guild Selection
Texas Library Association Best Book for 2010
From the Jacket Knack blog:
We LOVE the cover. You should see it in real life because the image here doesn't capture the colors right -- the reds are so saturated in real life; heat practically radiates off of the jacket. I recently asked the cover artist, the talented Sally Wern Comport, to tell us about what went into creating the cover art. What follows is her thoughtful reply, which pulls back the curtain on what-all goes on when an artist approaches a cover project.

Summary from B&
Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, one crazy summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls in search of the mother who abandoned them-an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.

My Review:
Just as Jacket Knack says, not only does the cover radiate heat, but the entire novel radiates a warmth missing from a lot of books lately.  Thankfully, I picked up this book just as we are experiencing some extended winter weather in Chicago.  Williams-Garcia's descriptions of the girls' summer in Oakland/San Francisco bring me back to a warmer time.

The characters are dynamic, realistic, and funny.  Anyone with sisters (particularly if you are an older sister) can relate to the nuances of inter-sibling politics.  And anyone who has ever had to be the caretaker for younger siblings can share in Delphine's struggles.

This is a great read for a chilly weekend if you're looking for a clean, simple, and warm story.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

XVI by Julia Karr

Title: XVI
Author: Julia Karr
Pages: 325
Debut Month: January
Completed: March 5, 2011
For my January pick, I read XVI by Julia Karr.  This book piqued my interest because Karr is a Chicago author.  Better yet, the setting is a futuristic Chicago! And I love SciFi!

Summary from Karr's website:
"In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina's father. But, first Nina has to find him; since for fifteen years he's been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad."

Very early on in the story, I felt bombarded by futuristic versions of common terms ('letes for athletes, verts for advertisements, trannies for cars/transportation).  Either I became numb to the terms or they were coming at the reader less frequently as the story went on; but luckily, I somehow got passed the neo-vocab to get to the story.

Most of the characters were flat, though I'm not sure that was the intention.  The end of the novel left so many questions unanswered and so many storylines hanging that we were never able to see the characters fully develop or change. 
Fortunately, the sequel Truth is in progress, and maybe our questions will be answered! (I have a hunch about Wei's tattoo and this "thorn" image). I can't wait to find out what happens with Nina and her father, and how Wei and Sal fit in to all this, but I feel like the readers deserved more than they got! After keeping track of all of this new vocabulary and  keeping up with the circumstances of futuristic Chicago and colonies on the Moon, I was left with a need to connect more with the characters than this SciFiChi world offered.

I will definitely read Truth to find out some answers!

Slice #4 - Lit Nightclub

When most people drive by this bar, they may not see what I see. 

I'm a reader. 

When I drive by this bar, I see the place that houses Neil Gaiman's favorite place to go for happy hour.
When I drive by this bar, I see Judy Blume sipping Shirley Temples with Beverly Cleary.

I'm a reader.

When I drive by this bar, I see Sarah Dessen clinking margarita glasses with Cassandra Clare.
When I drive by this bar, I see Suzanne Collins playing Golden Tee with Neal Shusterman.

I'm a reader.

When I drive by this bar, I see JK Rowling buying a round.
When I drive by this bar, I see Lauren Oliver playing pool with Jay Asher.

I'm a reader.

And when I drive by this bar, I just hope they let me in! "I'm a reader!"

Who do you see?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Slice #3 You can have your Kart and Read It, too.

I find myself in the midst of many challenges. Figuratively and literally!

The writer in me is participating in the Slice of Life challenge hosted by the Two Writing Teachers. The reader in me is participating in the Debut Author Challenge hosted by the Story Siren. The fiance in me is looking to spend more time with my soon-to-be husband. How do I get it all done?

A couch, the wii, and my ability to read while tuning out the beeps and honks from the video game! And then writing a Slice about it!

Back to my multitasking quality time!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Slice #2

Standardized Test Day #2: A(n Attempted) Poem
"You may begin."

Flip! Bodies bent over booklets,
brains buzzing with a bombardment of prepubescent preoccupations.

I hope they remember the strategies.
Zip! A #2 underlines an important idea or word.

Fifty-five minutes left.
Slowly, silently, scan the students.
Take a lap up and down the aisles.
Any apparent bubble artists out there?

"Achoo!" A case of the sniffles couldn't keep
these kiddos away on the big test day.

I should've...
I could've...

Fifty-four minutes left....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Slice #1

Irony. The unexpected. 
I arrived home after a day at school that involved state testing, miscommunications, new perspectives, and good literary discussions with my students.  I arrived home to my fiance's son, who I haven't seen in several days.  How tall he seemed to have gotten.  Or was it the new pants causing the illusion? My fiance noted the growth first, and so I asked C, two (and a half) years old, "How tall are you?"

His response? "Taller and taller."

What an unexpected, but accurate answer! I joined my fiance and our new philospher on the floor, where a parking lot of toy cars was being assembled. 

After sharing the stressful parts of my day with my fiance, I was able to sit back and observe the peaceful play of a two-year-old carefully arranging his cars on the floor.  I laid my head down on the carpet and looked at things from his perspective.  How large everything around our apartment loomed.  Tall dining table, large lamp hanging from the ceiling, patio doors that seem to soar up to the sky.  But he wasn't overwhelmed by these surroundings, he was focused on the task at hand.  The simple joy of moving his cars to just the right spot.  He didn't have to worry about the fact that he can't reach the table top just yet, nor can he come close to reaching the lightbulb dangling from the lamp if it needed changing.  These issues, much like the ones that were stressors from my day, don't seem so looming when you get down to "it", whatever "it" may be for you at the moment. 

Why wasn't he worried? Because he is getting taller and taller and he'll get there one day. We all will.