Monday, August 14, 2017

It all began at PS 117 for Ruth Behar and me...

I can't stop thinking about Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar.  This is how my story goes:

I had been hearing a lot about the book so when it finally came in at the public library, I ran over there to pick it up.  It was probably around 8pm and my husband had already retired upstairs to work on his crossword puzzle.  Both of my kids were at sleepaway camp so the house was quiet.  I settled into the sofa, read the first paragraph, then the second and then I screamed.  OMG! I'm surprised I didn't trip as I galloped up the stairs to Kevin. Hyperventilating, I read the words aloud:

PS 117!  That was MY elementary school! I couldn't believe it.  I talk about PS 117 all the time! I am a firm believer that my upbringing in Briarwood surrounded by diversity helped form who I am today.  Of course, I hated that Ruthie began in the "dumb class" so I was pulling for her from day one to get moved out.  Why weren't the classes heterogenous back then? Even though the book takes place about 10 years before my time at PS 117, we were still tracked in the 70s, too.  Check out Facebook and you can see the success of the cohort of kids from Mrs. Brown's fifth grade class: successful attorneys, journalists, library directors, businessmen and women, chiropractors...

Anyway, back to Lucky Broken Girl.

This is the story of Ruthie, the Hopscotch Queen of Queens, whose Jewish family emigrated from Cuba.  She even has a Bubby and Zady (Grandma and Grandpa in Yiddish).  We just celebrated my Bubby's (my kids call her "Super Bubby") 93rd birthday!

Ruthie's life changes in an instant, when one day, in her dad's new blue Oldsmobile, the family gets into an accident that leaves Ruthie in a body cast for a year.

"My leg is fractured, but all of me broke.  Who'll put me together again?"-p. 52

"Just the other day I felt so grown-up in my go-go boots.  And now I'm like a baby in diapers again."-p.61

Like a famous fictional middle grade character, Margaret, who wrote letters to G-d, so does Ruthie.  "...if I had to choose between going back to the dumb class and not being able to walk, I would ask you to send me to the dumb class." And she can't shake her hatred for the boy who caused the accident.  "Do you think you can help?  Maybe, while I sleep, you can come and snatch away all the hate that is like a stone in my heart?"

Being in bed for one year of your life wouldn't be easy for anyone.  Some days "the sadness arrives and sits on [her] head. It gets comfortable and stays there. Like a dark cloud that won't go away." But with the support and friendship of neighbors Chicho and Mark, tutor, Joy, Mami, Papi, Izzie, her good doctor, ambulance and hospital workers, Bobbie and Clay...Ruthie is brave, optimistic and a survivor. "You helped me survive a terrible experience.  I know that all of you helped me to get through it."

"Why is it that bad things have to happen so you learn there are lots of good people in the world?"- p.174

Lessons learned. Tears shed. Smiles worn.  Giggles heard. This book has it all and will bring out the best in you. You'll be cha-cha-cha-ing in your go-go boots and pulling for Ruthie from Day 1.

Side note to my PS 117 alumni, how easy it will be for you to imagine the sidewalks of Briarwood, Ruthie's apartment, our elementary school.  And I have to ask because I'm only vaguely remembering but wasn't Mrs. Margolis our third grade teacher?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Happy Book Birthday, Solo!

Texts to You
8:59 am
Tomorrow my Twitter feed
is going to be
Buzzing with #Solo posts.

9:05 am
Track 1:  Happy Birthday to You
Patty and Mildred J. Hill

9:12 am
Happy Book Birthday, Solo
by Kwame Alexander
With Mary Rand Hess

Paired with an incredible playlist, this is the story of talented Blade, his search to find who he is while uncovering his own meaning of life. Forbidden relationships ensue and ones he wishes weren't, all expressed within the confounds of unforgettable love poetry.

Sure, I've missed

the love songs
and the memories
in the strings.

The weight
of comfort
in my arms.


This poem reminded me of when I took up the guitar for about a year and a half until I was pregnant with Tari and just too big to hold the guitar on my lap.  All I wanted to do was belt out the folk songs and sing kumbaya at the campfire but it never happened.  I know I was only .01% as talented as Blade, but sometimes I still get the longing...

9:17 am
Excerpts for you.
I know this describes Kwame's happy place:

The smiles here
are abundant,
a crest of waves
across faces
young and old
that fly
with wings
of kings and queens
in search of 
trees rooted
in ancient ground

9:23 am
From the poem:
Then she gets close
to my face,
and in her eyes.
I see my reflection.
It's surprisingly happy
for the first time
in a while.

From the poem:
2:51 pm
I close my eyes
let her hold
me around
my waist
and walk
the path
that's been chosen
for me
never looking down
or back.

10:09 am
So I would put aside a few hours
With or without you
To sink into Solo

And grab your headphones
For the playlist alone will also have you traveling down
Your own memory lane.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Reflecting as a Guest: Alicia, Ruta, NYC

That was a great 7.25 mile run. Not because I revel in humidity and live for the times when sweat just drips off my forehead as I untie my shoes, but because I had some time with Lina, Andrius, Joana, Jonas and all the rest of Ruta Sepetys's vivid characters.  While I should be listening to a middle grade novel from my Newbery contender reading list, I am secretly not. All fingers point towards my friend and YA lit mentor, Alicia Abdul, on why that isn't happening.  It's Alicia's fault I bawled in the middle seat on the way to TLA while reading Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King. It's her fault this is my second Ruta book.  And her fault I read every Jason Reynolds book last summer.  

What I am to elementary, Alicia is exponentially more to High School. She is amazing.  She knows her literature. She understands her audience and she is so perfectly organized.  Me? I feel so scattered and overwhelmed when I am with her.  She loves cute dresses and always looks adorably professional in them. Me? I love my converse, headbands and frequently do not even match when I dress for school.  No surprise that my favorite spirit week day is "Mismatch Day." Twice Alicia and I have presented back to back about new books.  I'm up there literally doing a chicken dance and racing through my presentation while Alicia has hers down to a science. In my humble opinion she's a Mary Poppins of secondary librarians.

So when she asked me to write a guest post on her blog you can only imagine the heart palpitations. What would I write about?  After several failed attempts I finally put it to rest to take a day off.  I started to write about a dream I had a few nights ago where I was offered a significant pay raise to move to a public library position. Boy did I struggle.  I love my job but it's always nice to have a little extra cash. I woke up in a pool of sweat before I made my final decision. However, as much as I love all libraries, I'll tell you now that I haven't finished making even a dent on the difference in the lives of my students at Castleton Elementary School. So if that dream becomes recurring, I know what number door to pick.

Then last night on our way home from New York City, I began to read aloud essays written by successful candidates to Hamilton College.  I awoke this morning with an idea for a post and you can read it all here:

I may not have thought to put those words down on paper if it had not been for Alicia.  I could have said no to Alicia--it is summer and a busy time for me personally and professionally.  But I'm not good at saying "No" (possible future blog post topic?).  I also could have gone the safe route and written a review or again, just said "no."  But like Joe Pucci, I reflected on myself, took the leap, said "yes" to a superstar colleague and went for it.

Side note:  Between Shades of Gray is so good.  I have both the audio and print versions so I can read it anytime I have a moment to spare. Alicia and Ruta are buds and I was thrilled to fangirl her at TLA in April.

Ruta Sepetys discusses her novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.

Just me swooning over Ruta at TLA.  
If you read the blog post, here are a few more (food) pictures from yesterday's jaunt to the city:

We always take a selfie on our way down
Who can resist a NY bagel?  YUM!

At Momofuku on the Upper East Side
The leap of the day!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Graphic Novel Thursday!

There are three great graphic novels (two already published and one due out in September) that you want to make sure are on your TBR pile, if you haven't read them or put them there already.  All by folks we already know and love and all about navigating your way through friendship, family, middle school and the bruises of growing up.  I laughed. I cried. I held my breath. I held my heart.  Emotions I strive for feeling when I pick up a book.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Deemed as a memoir with the names changed (Junior Library Guild cataloged it as 921 for me), this is the story of young Shannon's life in both early and upper elementary school.  This one grabbed at my heart strings multiple times.  We all can remember trying to be in "the group."  Shannon's was actually called, "The Group." Best friend, Adrienne, Jen, Jenny, sister "the bear" Wendy, Zara and Veronica, Kayla, Mom...all of the characters play a role in making Shannon strong and standing up for what she really wants but not without pain. "Relatable" as my teenager daughter would say.  Sadly, I bet it's relatable to many of us.  What a great conversation starter with students and families, though.  I have a book group planned for next week with the book.  One rising third grader already read it.  This is what her mom texted me:

I agree.  It is sad, but it's also important.  I'm glad this student told her mom to read it, too.  I think that's what makes this such a great book.  It's accessible to anyone and would be really great to get kids talking with parents, older siblings, teachers, counselors and all other adults. Side note fun for the adults: You'll enjoy the 70s music in the background (Chicago, the Clash, etc).  Also, make sure to have tissues nearby.

Babymouse: Tales from the Locker: Lights, Camera, Middle School! by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm

Babymouse has grown up and yesterday was her book birthday into the world as a middle schooler! Woohoo! A hybrid between a chapter book and graphic novel, Jenni and Matt Holm have crafted another epic non-disaster book that is "le awesome" and if Babymouse has anything to do with it, "le success." Babymouse is just a little older than Shannon in Real Friends and she tells it like it is right at the beginning. "The hardest subject in middle school was friendship." No kidding!

This is the story of Babymouse's attempt to navigate her way through middle school while figuring out what extra curricular club to join.  She decides to direct a film.  Budding film and theatre fans will love this even more!  What better way for Babymouse to become "le famous"?  Of course, lots of lessons are learned on the way about friendship, filmmaking and what it's like to direct your time in middle school to success. ✭💜✭

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (September 2017)

Huzzah! Squires and Knights in Training take note--This one was gut-wrenching good!  Madam Jamieson has done it again (and honestly, I think this one is better than Roller Girl, if that is even possible!).  Imogene's family works at the Florida Renaissance Faire and since kindergarten she has been homeschooled.  Now she is in sixth grade and is going to school for the first time.  Middle school is tough for anyone--imagine it being your first experience in a school setting.

You know when you were in middle school and you did things just to fit in and afterward you regretted it and just didn't know why you did it? Well, Victoria Jamieson must have spent hours again in a middle school or has some incredible photographic memory because every feeling and action in the book is just perfection. And like Babymouse's return to middle school, this book will appeal to all of the now-in-middle-school original Roller Girl fans (or at least mine since they will all be in 7th grade in September).


The books I related to when I was a tween and teen were written by Judy Blume and Norma Klein. Those women nailed it for me in the 80s when it came to friendship, living with divorce and just growing up.  Now we have a new set up of authors and illustrators that are hitting the nail on the head when it comes to these coming of age issues for a whole new generation of readers. Madam Hale, Madam Pham, Madam Holm, Sir Holm and Madam Jamieson--You are LE group and you ROCK the CASBAH! I love you all and cannot wait for more!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What This Story Needs is a Vroom and a Zoom

Are you looking for a new book for your young Cars 3 fan? Wait no more! For today is THE day!

🎉Happy Book Birthday to What This Story Needs is a Vroom and a Zoom!🎈

Pig is back and more determined than ever to win Saturday morning's "Cross-Country Race." Donkey and Goose are vrooming and zooming with hopes of victory as well. Pig is in the lead! Oh no! Pig just took a turn in the mud! No worries! In comes her pit crew (your Cars fans will be able to relate!) equipping her with new tires while wiping sweat and hydrating with a sip of punch. Pig is back in the race with the finish line looming.  Can she catch up? Is a victory lap (and dance and leap) in her future? Remember, this is a tenacious Pig, furrowed brow and all...

Final Book 5 in Emma Virjan's "Pig in a Wig" series will not disappoint old fans and new.  Parents will enjoy reading the rhymes over and over again and finding new details in the illustrations each time. Be sure and take note of the license plates (back and front) and Pig's snout steering wheel. The biggest Pig in a Wig fan I know (besides ALL my students) is 3 1/2 year old Natalia.  She can already recite the books she owns by heart so it will be good to add another one to her repertoire.  Happy Book Birthday!

I love all the details in this illustration!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Relationships, Stephen Savage, and Twitter! Oh my!

A few weeks ago I attended a Binghamton University (SUNY-Binghamton when I was there) alumni event.  The school is trying to relaunch the club since 3000 alumni live here in the Albany area.  I was curious, especially since my daughter is a rising HS sophomore, and went with my cousin, class of '08.  There was a guy from the class of '77, me (class of '91), a guy from '98 and then more people from the 2000's and later.  I spent the most amount of time chatting with Rodell, '16. Rodell was there alone and had been living and working in Albany since November.  Maybe he came to make friends? Network? See old friends? Find a date?  Whatever it was, I was impressed.  An elementary school librarian may not be the person he was hoping of meeting that night and I might not be the most helpful in his engineering career but it did get me thinking about...

...relationships.  Personal connections and relationships.  I don't doubt we live in a world of high tech, instant contact, social media explosions, however, it got me thinking that when those tools are used wisely and with heart, you can move mountains. Or at least make a difference in the lives of some kids.

It's been a long time since I blogged.  June seems to have come and gone in a flash.  Now it is the end and summer has finally begun.  This summer not only am I hoping to read a #bookaday (chapter books, if possible) but to blog more (daily may be impossible), run so I can enjoy my sweets and lattes and forge more personal relationships with book creators.

My last of seven illustrator/author visits of the year was with, I think I can now confidently say, my friend, Stephen Savage. And even though we had Skyped a few months earlier, I believe that friendship became solidified with a tweet that got his school visit rolling:

From that one tweet, Rachel Person from the Northshire Bookstore, sent out an email and five months later Steve was walking my red carpet runway celebrating the book birthday of Little Plane Learns to Write. So, I will never knock social media but I will say, during that time he and I actually chatted on the phone twice, sent many emails back and forth to each other and I convinced him to have "dinner at Doe's" the night before his visit so we could form a 20th century friendship beyond social media.

Here are some snapshots from our great day with Steve. 
BTW--friend or foe, I highly recommend him for a school visit. Start knocking at his door today like I did...

Welcoming Steve the night before at Dinner at Doe's (far left)

Skywriting Like Little Plane at the Reading Ambassador Breakfast Little Plane Birthday Party


With the fifth grade Reading Ambassadors



More Birthday Celebrating with Dewey Duty Helpers

Flying out (and leaping) on our Runway

Until next time--Looking forward to you landing and leaping in Castleton again soon!

Thanks to Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Spring, NY and Macmillian for making this possible.  Saratoga is a great place to visit and the bookstore is a lovely spot right there on Broadway.  What a great way to end our school year!


I have to throw this in here while we are talking about the positive power of social media.  Here's another friendship that was forged, again, just from one tweet on August 14, 2014:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Welcome to Wonderland 2

Disclosure: This happened two weeks ago.  I'm a bit behind in publishing this post!

Tuesday we had another book birthday at Castleton Elementary School.  Cupcakes, popcorn, beach jello, watermelon, cookies, and more.  Everything but BALLOONS?  What?! No, it's ok! You're thinking of the other amazing Chris Grabenstein story. This one is fun in the sun.  And the Beach Boys songs are still roaming around in my head.

Fancy bakeries would have the book made out of fondant.  I just printed out 75 covers and topped the cupcakes.

Daniel brought in the jello beach cups. Yum!

Ronan almost has me believing that we ARE at the Wonderland Motel.

I asked Chris a long time ago if he would be able to Skype with us during our party.  Turns out he was in Albany for the day and could literally stop by to our party for 20 minutes.  Lucky us!  That was just enough time to do the Monkey Dance, answer a few questions from my "Chris Grabenstein Quiz" and sign some books.

Chris is like an old friend here in Castleton.  He's had dinner at Doe's twice.  No one else can say that. Yet.  He's visited our school three times, Skyped once and given us a video or two here and there. He's had two galas in his honor--at the first one I practically begged him to show up (and I didn't even know him then) and the second one was the Olympics, so a "kind-of" gala.  It had the energy of the Gala without the gowns and black ties.

The party was super fun and went without a hitch. I couldn't have done it without the help of other teachers, parents, Grandma Dottie, my principal, our future Superintendent and of course, Doe and her husband, Bob, who picked Chris up from his Albany school visit.  I must add that Grandma Dottie was the waitress extraordinaire serving apple juice on trays and you would almost think that Mr. Chevrier, Superintendent-To-Be, was really applying for the Custodian-To-Be job the way he was carrying around the broom!

Chris is BACK!

Happy Book Birthday!

Izzy and Ryan are big Wonderland fans. They even wrote blurbs about it!

We sold a good number of books! Yay!


Even our custodian loves Chris!