... and there's not much time left in which to write one. Ten more free days, then meetings and classroom work begin, and on August 24th, students are back and the 2015-2016 school year begins. For some reason I always have difficulty figuring out exactly how long I've been teaching, maybe because we do the years in that half-and-half way... I began in October of 1998, after the school year had already started, at Lowell Middle School in West Oakland, which no longer exists. There are two schools sharing that site now, a KIPP school ("Knowledge is Power Program" Charter school, with extended school days, extended school years, and extended school/work hours for teachers... not with extended pay, or union representation, mostly) and the West Oakland Middle School... what is their fucking PROBLEM, with that name? James Russell Lowell was a dumb enough name... OBVIOUSLY if you're naming a school in West Oakland, an overwhelmingly African-American (and historically significant black nationalist) neighborhood, after an American poet, Langston Hughes is the poet to choose (there, I'm a poet and I didn't know it). And, equally obviously, the school mascot should be a Black Panther. I mean, DUH.

ANYWAY, I began in October 1998... which means this is my

2004-2005 (left Lowell; left Oakland Unified School District)
2010-2011(left first middle school in new district for second middle school in new district)

eighteenth year of teaching. I don't think I come off as a hoary veteran teacher, secure in my skills and satisfied with my teaching. At least, that's the best spin I can put on the fact that whenever I meet new teachers (at Professional Development trainings, e.g.) they seem extremely surprised that I have been teaching this long. I could, of course, put a very negative spin on that reaction, too. I struggle a lot with impostor syndrome, for damn sure. And this upcoming year is an evaluation year, hallelujah! Oh, glory, glory, glory. Not. We have a (still) new principal, whose first year was sort of her (in her own words) watchful waiting year. Now she feels like she's made the transition from high school to our particular middle school and is ready to put her own ideas into place. I am terrified of being evaluated by her, because a) after my experiences with two (women) principals in specific, I have fucking hella PTSD around classroom observations, and b) she is one of those people whose faces you cannot read AT ALL. She is immensely awkward and I do not get her. On the other hand, she is very intelligent and I do not think she is an evil administrator who lives to carry out district mandates.

Okay. I am trying not to borrow trouble here. This year, I am going to try to pull together a teacher inquiry project and ask for alternative assessment, even though everyone agrees that it is much harder and has very difficult hoop-jumping involved. I still feel like I will hate it less than being observed in my classroom... which, by the way, does not mean that I will not be observed teaching: we all are, frequently, on random walkthroughs which are supposed to produce non-formal written reactions. The principal was in my classroom loads of times last year, but I only got one such non-formal written review. It was depressing, in that she observed kids off task at the back of the class.

Anyway, beginning to organize a teacher inquiry is part of what I need to do over the next week to ten days. I know I want it to be about kids' reading, which is a powerful mystery to me, and which happens to coincide with the PD I went to this summer, the Reading Apprenticeship program. I also want to work in technology in the classroom and how that can affect student reading and writing (since, after last year's Project LEAN-In, I have a full set of chromebooks and a charging cart dedicated to my class alone)... and the practice of Socratic Seminars. It's going to take some doing to craft a concise set of questions and imagine what kinds of data I can collect. I know I want to start with some baseline writing and reading samples and with a self-survey about reading unfamiliar texts, and a reading interest survey.

Other things I have done here in the waning days of summer, and then things that I still want to get done:


1. Cleaned out both of the big closets in my apartment and threw out seven (at least) huge black garbage bags of junk, as well as giving away eight grocery bags worth of clothes and stuff.

2. Got rid of a bookshelf and two-thirds of the books on it, as well as a total of six other bags of excess books which I have purged. No Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Mandel, Freire, or Kollontai was harmed in this purge. On the other hand, lots of mystery series I now own as ebooks have made their way to a new home in thrift shops.

3. Cleaned and wiped and dusted bookshelves.

4. Cleared and reorganized a strange piece of furniture next to my desk which seems to be made of dark-stained plywood. It came with the apartment, which I got basically furnished, through subletting from a friend of my sister's who moved to NYC and then Spain, seventeen going on eighteen years ago. I've changed out a lot of the furniture over the years (to cheap IKEA stuff, basically) but there are still a lot of the original things, some beautiful pieces of art she painted herself, like my coffee table and a hinged piano bench I use for tools, and some just weird like this drawer/shelf combo. But it's ORGANIZED now, with a section for Hindi study, for art supplies, for envelopes and folders (and, apparently, my cat, who I just disturbed there at the back of the bottom shelf. I had no idea that was one of Devlin's hiding places).


1. Plan teacher inquiry, as stated above

2. Reorganize bulletin board above desk

3. Upload photos from phone and from camera... I am somewhat OCD, so that involves captioning or titling every single photo... I cannot bear them not to have titles

4. Scan more of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of old photos I got this summer

5. Do All Of The Laundry, ugh, probably at a laundromat because I hate going up and down the stairs to the basement, and we only have one washer and one dryer.

6. Clear and reorganize the living room bookshelves, though I already weeded the books.

The sad thing about this is that although *I* know that all of this work has taken place, it doesn't necessarily show up clearly to someone visiting my apartment. Frustrating.

Devlin has abandoned her super sekrit hiding place and is now relaxing between my arms again, as I type.
It is almost 10:30, and I am not ready to go to bed and concede that my weekend is over. I also haven't eaten dinner, and that is stupid for numerous reasons, actual physical hunger being one of them. (In a follow up to my last entry more than a month ago... I have been able, so far, to continue doing pretty well in tracking and being regular with diabetes stuff, despite school starting. I am especially doing well in eating well at school, and drinking tea there, and not wasting money and pancreatic health on the fast food franchises that infest all school neighborhoods in the US... I have a microwave, a plug in kettle, and a small fridge in my classroom, but until this year, I had not made the best, most consistent use of those things. I am also hella grateful for cheap frozen meals from Trader Joe's, and fruit, and cut up veggies from ditto...).

Anyway... as far as the title of this post... yeah, Sunday Night Blues, amplified by two things -- first, our union's tactics in contract negotiations with the district, see how they suck. The president has pretty much hinted (and it was no surprise given this union local's generally supine approach to the district, with whom they USED to be cozy as hell) that if we do go to impasse and then arbitration and then vote for a strike, it will be long and depressing because the district is headed by Scott Walker wannabes aiming to gut any union, and we'll lose. Great! So the only tactic the union leadership is pushing is a) electoral, as far as getting two new members of the local school board elected who might vote against the superintendent, and b) work to rule until that school board election, although not every site is participating. My middle school site is THE VANGUARD, ahead of any other school including the two high schools. Crazy.

So here's the deal. [This is mostly excerpted from a chat with a friend, to whom I was explaining what is going on]

Labor situation: our union, the [redacted] Education Association (so, NEA rather than AFT) has been in negotiations for the past eight or nine months, and we've been without a contract that long. The district is playing Scott Walker hard ball and has utter contempt for us. They offered a 1% raise while districts surrounding us were offering 8% or more. They've inched up to 2.5% or something derisory like that. They have tons of new money that is neither restricted nor one-time only income, but they refuse to spend it on either salaries or smaller class sizes in the lower grades, which was supposedly a California priority.

In reaction, we're "working to rule" at least at my site (I am very curious about at least one of the other middle schools, because they were supposed to vote on this last week) until mid-November, after the (stupid) school board elections. I don't think much of this electoral tactic — why the two board members supported by the union would make THAT much difference, and also, why they would necessarily get elected, despite a big push and precinct walking by the union. This is a pretty conservative community, small, mostly stable working class and lower middle class, with a lot of Christians and a lot of Mormons.

Working to rule means we can only do what is literally in our (expired) contract: we can't work early or late (which ALL of us do); we can't have our rooms open and supervise children during the morning break or over our lunch period (which sucks because I have a group of kids who like to eat there and who are hella nice, from last year and this year); strictly observed, we shouldn't even grade at home or send email to parents or students answering their email at home. I am very nervous about not grading, though generally I am hella up to date on that. Right now I have two weeks' worth of Reading Logs for my three English/Language Arts classes, and one article with "talking to the text" all over it to comment on in depth for those three classes, and one Review & Assess on a short story by Gary Soto, and coming tomorrow, one character trait/character/supporting quote assignment on the same story. The Social Studies grading mostly happens in class, so there's that, at least. There are two more weeks in the first quarter, and we've been told to do our "best guess estimation" on grades.

My friend asked how anyone could "catch me" grading at home, or sending emails at home. I told him that they (the union) cannot. But it undercuts solidarity with my fellow teachers if I grade and post grades for parents to see on Schoolloop when other teachers are not doing it; it divides us. I may decide to grade at home, but not post the grades publically, that is, update Schoolloop (the online grading/email program we use to communicate with students and parents). Literally, grading and planning and emailing students and parents is all unpaid overtime that teachers do at home and after school and before school ALL THE TIME.

But it sucks. It's painful, and it makes my job harder while I'm on the clock.

Here, have a couple of pretty pictures that show how my classroom has progressed since the first bare day.

Bookshelves with classroom library near front door

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New bookshelf for my own teacher stuff, and more posters/decor

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Past extra credit projects from first quarter's Medieval Europe unit

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I can't believe I didn't write anything this summer. It's been kind of... well, at Thursday's bullshit welcome-back-to-forced-blah-blah meeting we had to have "Circle Time", where our entire school site staff sat in a big circle outside in the glaring sun, and used 'speaking objects' to take turns sharing. Our first sharing question was to describe our summer in seven words or less. I said "Family and personal health and Lake Geneva". And that was my summer, folks. That and being enraged about Gaza and Ferguson.

I started the summer with a wretched cold that was almost Whooping Cough... it lasted for weeks and weeks, and involved extreme exhaustion. Also in terms of personal health, I spent the summer trying to deal better with my diabetes. Recording and tracking blood sugar levels, checking off pills and insulin daily, tracking (observing, more, not prescribing or critiquing) meals. It's been very good to do that, and I hope to fuck I can continue now that school is starting.

On the family health front, that really means my mother, who in addition to her COPD, is also dealing with what my sister and I have just learned to describe as Mild Cognitive Impairment, aka dementia-in-waiting. There have been signs and portents for a few years, but incidences have been increasing and finally even my denial (second only to my mother's superior powers in that area) was fractured. One example: we were getting some gas and she offered to pump it, which was nice, but once she finally figured out how to put my card in to pay for it (which failed multiple times) she tried to gas the pump rather than my car, and asked in confusion where she was supposed to put the nozzle. Pretty terrifying.

Thing is, her confusion and her issues with memory are so greatly affected by emotion and depression that it's a little hard to tell what is baseline. When she is upset and dealing with negative emotions, she is much more likely to become confused. And that gas pump episode was after a hell of a week at the beginning of the summer when I'd taken her to three doctors' appointments or tests, and then she'd had a spell of dizziness and falling that took her to the ER -- due, it turned out, to drug interactions. She hadn't told her doctor out here about one drug her doctor in Chicago had her on, and the combination of two of her pills dropped her blood pressure down to extremely dangerous levels. When she started falling and we rushed her to the ER, however, we didn't know that, and her doctor used the very scary word 'stroke'.

So. We're working on getting her to live out here in Oakland full time, and it seems like we've finally mostly won that argument, though she is not yet selling her co-op in Chicago. She has agreed in principle, though. ANYWAY, my main point is that this summer has pretty much been about dealing with all of these things. Even going to Lake Geneva for two weeks was mostly about dealing with stuff for my mom; we went together, and both stayed with my dad and stepmother. Thank fuck that they and my mom are family and friends. I can't imagine estrangement there; what a nightmare that would be. She's doing okay right now, though emotionally fragile with the recognition of this MCI stuff. My sister motivated her signing a contract with a geriatric management company out here that has assistants who do daily home visits and check her pills and get her engaged in the day, which prevents my mom from slipping into sleeping for vast portions of the day due to her chronic depression. This is a good thing, though damn, it costs up the ass.

Otherwise, I feel like I mostly used the summer to do expensive personal chores I couldn't get to during the school year, like a brake job and mundane household purchases (new desk top, new mattress topper, sheets, new external hard drive, etc.) And now it's over. I don't know. My classroom is ready (a giant thank you to my younger niece R., for helping me yesterday, photos below). I am not really thinking about teaching yet, although it starts Monday. But it's a minimum day, whatever. I'll practice their names and seating charts, even though my rosters will probably change in a week or two.

A serene empty classroom:

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My niece R-the-younger:

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maeve66: (Read Motherfucking Books All Damn Day)
... when there are only nine days left?

But I do. Ugh. Lesson planning is done until the end of the year. Everyone is on final end-of-the-year-projects (well, not the 6th graders... I wish I could think of something for that... I should...) either poetry books for ELA, or make-a-boardgame-for "The Age of Exploration" or "The Enlightenment", for Social Studies. And after the poetry book is done, which should be this Thursday, we get to read and then do Readers' Theater for "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street", which is an enjoyable Cold War allegory from The Twilight Zone. And then we get to watch it, and maybe also watch the one about William Shatner coming home on a plane after a nervous breakdown, and seeing an abominable snowman on the plane's wing, trying to sabotage the plane. But no one else can see it! Just the once-again-crazy guy!

I SHOULDN'T have the Sunday Night Blues!

Bah. I'm just going to go to bed and read. I'm on the second-to-last (boy, I'm liking the dash tonight) medieval mystery series about Isaac of Girona, by Caroline Roe. A blind Jewish physician in post-plague Girona, in the kingdom of Aragon. It's before (about a century before) the expulsion of Jews from Spain, fucking Isabella of Castile, and before the Reconquista, though the Jewish quarters are under pressure, and courtly exchanges between Moors and Christians are fraying. I like the series. It's a little slow moving, but it definitely does well with the setting.

Speaking of reading, I am going slower this year, on my goal of an average of a book a day. I put in 365 again, on Goodreads, but I am only 24 or so books ahead of where I should be. Last year I just kept getting farther ahead. Maybe I'll catch up over the summer. REREADING, baybee. (I still do that to comfort myself, [personal profile] springheel_jack).
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I am typing this in Dreamwidth, which tells me my paid account is lapsing in a week or so. I am not sure why I have paid for DW. I do not think I will continue to do so. I will have fewer icons. So what. I can change them to what I want in LJ. I guess I will continue to post here, just so I have a back-up if the untrustworthy Russian carcass of LJ goes under at last.

I think I am friended to, like, five people in DW, and I think all but one of those five are from LJ anyway. It hasn't -- as many others have noted -- worked as a network.

So. I haven't written in weeks. Wow, not since early August. Well, the early school year is often like that; it takes weeks to get settled into it and stop being deeply exhausted. This year has been even more exhausting, because at the beginning of the second week (I think -- it could have been at the end of the first week) my principal dropped by my classroom during my prep period and dropped my jaw by asking if I would please teach a 6th grade English/Language Arts & Social Studies Core class in addition to my two 7th grade ELA/SS Core classes, dropping the two ELA-Support classes I had.

This was going to be a career first, in that I would have been teaching the same thing for a THIRD YEAR IN A ROW. That had never happened. And now, it still has never happened. You can't really say no to your principal on something like that, even if it is phrased as a request. I mean, maybe you could, if you were a year or so from retirement and had unassailable tenure and didn't give a shit about your colleagues. The reason I was being asked was a) one of our sixth grade ELA/SS teachers had emigrated to Australia over the summer. This wasn't news -- we gave her a huge good bye party last June, and it had been in the works for literally years. But the district refused to replace her, predicting that our incoming 6th grade class would be smaller this year. Well, it was smaller. But not smaller enough. The other three 6th grade ELA/SS teachers all had classes that had 45 or more students in them. Our contractual limit is 34 students per class (which is still WAY TOO FUCKING BIG) and the district treats that limit like it is both the ceiling and also the floor. In other words, they try to cram exactly 34 kids into each class, and don't like classes in the 20s.

When my principal first 'asked' me, he said he'd keep my class at 20 students, and would try to compensate me for the vast additional amount of planning and grading by getting me out of after school supervisions... mine have been the school concerts (specifically, recording them on a digital videocamera) and I like them, though they keep me at school twice a year until almost 10 PM. Within a week, he had to admit that the class would be 28, at a minimum (and will probably go up to 34, like all of my other classes... where the Support classes had been nice and small; one was 21 and the other was 14, which was LOVELY -- oh, man, that class was so nice this year! I had kids reading silently in complete absorption and fascination, and working together well in grammar and vocabulary work, and listening intently to read alouds ... sigh. 14 kids is a great class size). And then a few days later he added to the joy by changing my schedule so that I lost my 4th period prep which a) was right next to lunch, thus giving me a long lunch, in effect, and b) got me out of horrible Home Room, which is a pointless ten minutes of announcements and rah rah school spirit nonsense, AND the Pledge of Allegiance. UGHHHHHH.

Contractually, if your teaching assignment is changed once the school year starts, you get two days off with paid subs to plan. So I took them last week. I will meet the new 6th grade classes tomorrow, and try to comfort them for their changed schedules and the fact that they've lost the teachers they've bonded with and the routines they've gotten used to. And now I will be trying to plan for four entirely different subjects and keep up with two entirely different teaching teams and their meetings, all year long. At least I know what I am doing tomorrow; I got that lesson planning done, except for writing a welcoming and explanatory letter for their parents. I have to do that this evening, and then get there early tomorrow to make copies.

One thing I am trying to do more this year is to integrate more technology (I'm eons behind Miss Tabby here, but that's okay). I've been having different seventh grade students volunteer to log in to their Schoolloop accounts to demonstrate how to use that school-home interface program our district bought several years ago... man, maybe almost ten years ago at this point. It has built-in email features, an electronic gradebook where kids can see what assignments are due, have been assigned, are graded, etc. It has lots of room for attachments (including, this year, video) so I put up a lot of models of completed assignments, as well as very detailed instructions, and recurring assignment forms that can be printed out, etc... I also take a photo of my daily Agenda that is handwritten on the whiteboard, and post that on Schoolloop, so kids who are absent or forgot to write down the homework can see it.

I use Goodreads myself -- I made a goal of reading 365 books this year, sort of as a joke, and have so far read 336, 20% ahead of my goal -- and was trying to figure out how I could get kids involved in that, but another teacher found a more kid-focused site which also has the benefit of being a teacher-controlled closed community with parental links/controls. This is important at the middle school level, sigh. So BiblioNasium allows you to create classes and individual memberships for your students, and make bookshelves with recommendations, and search for books by Reading Lexile* levels, etc. I want to have kids finish reading a book, reporting weekly on their Reading Logs, and then come up in front of the class, log in to BiblioNasium, and personally add that book to our classroom library shelves. I'm hoping that will get them starting to talk about books and write about them and compete a bit with one another.

I finally, finally have my classroom set up so I can show my students sites and YouTube and what have you from the internet via my LCD projector. Thank fuck. That's been overdue. More slideshows via PowerPoint (yeah, I know, but with good art images, they're not bad) and perhaps some Prezis, and ... well, I'd like a good platform for making a class website, for free, which I can moderate and not have outside visitors, but I don't really know what to look for, for that. Something easy, not something that is going to kill me to learn it. Suggestions?

*Lexile levels... they're a brute measure of how difficult a text's vocabulary is. The measurement system has severe problems in my mind ... you can look up books which have established lexile levels, and the results can be mind boggling**... but it IS true that trying to read a text where you do not know AT LEAST 95% of the words is a recipe for frustration and lack of comprehension. Students need to know their lexile level and try to read at or just above their lexile range to improve.

**An example: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Lexile Level = 770 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Lexile Level = 950 No, I did not make that up. You can look it up.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
I guess I do not have a ton to say. I hurt my right hand ring finger yesterday evening -- pulled a tendon or something -- and that ate up most of my Sunday, swear to god. No ice, so used frozen food. Elevation is a pain in the ass. Resting is resting. There was no compression. Oh, but getting the ring off of said ring finger took a long, agonizing time, involving frozen Trader Joe's tamales and olive oil. And pain. The tendon feels better now, but I don't want to do anything strenuous with my right hand. Yes, I am right-handed.

There are four days of this school year left. All of those days are minimum-days, meaning the kids leave at 12:25 and then I have a bazillion meetings each day until 3:30. I have already done a lot of the room-packing-up, with kids' help. And they are all finishing up with their last bits of final projects and so on. In the English/Language Arts class, we read the script of a Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and then I cast most of the class and we did a play reading of it, which was fun in both classes. Tomorrow we will watch the Twilight Zone episode, and probably a couple of other eps, like the one where William Shatner goes crazy on a plane.

In Social Studies we will watch Armand Assante in The Odyssey which is not the worst adaptation ever.* I took my ELA students (who are almost entirely also my Social Studies students) through the plot and some of the Robert Fitzgerald translation of the poetry of The Odyssey, earlier in the year, so I figure that should be a good year closer.

*Actually, I don't know of any other adaptations, even by the '60s cult idol guy who did all the claymation or whatever those monster movies FX were... what's his name? Did Sinbad the Sailor, and the Argonauts and what have you? Yes, Ray Harryhausen, that's him. These special effects -- for the TV miniseries from 1997 -- aren't awful. But shouldn't Odysseus have red hair? Wasn't that one of his defining features? Whatever, that's what I've got for them.
maeve66: (aqua tea icon)
Day 14: What did you expect to be doing at this age, when you were young? How does it compare with the actuality?

But first: what the fuck is wrong with Facebook? Everything is taking a bazillion years to do, look at individual pages (including my own), load more wall items, upload a photo... ugh.

Okay. I remember doing this same topic last year, somewhere sandwiched in among the not quite 365 entries that high schooler had come up with. As I recall -- and as true, in any case -- I did not think about being a teacher, as a kid. I thought about being a writer, a translator of French, an archaeologist, and possibly a professor of history. I don't think I considered much else. I would have liked to consider artist, but I never felt like I had enough originality and creativity to do that. And I made progress towards some of those intended goals during college and afterwards -- I majored in French; I took the intro to archaeology course and then got frightened off by the final lecture in which grad students took turns telling us there were no jobs at all and if we were LUCKY we'd be doomed to running ahead of a backhoe or bulldozer that was putting in a highway or a Walmart. I got an MA (and am ABD, sigh) in history. I worked as a translator for a revolutionary left newsmagazine in Paris. But somehow, I have ended up a teacher anyway.

The weird thing is, I can see how it started to coalesce, this decision, bit by bit, wavelet by wavelet, until it was a tide I couldn't resist. In grad school, a housemate gave up his potential PhD in Art History and Archaeology (which we'd spent tons of time talking about; I can still geek out on archaeology for any length of time you care to mention) in order to Get a Job. He entered a credential program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and we shifted our hours of late night conversations to teaching and education reform (actual reform, not the disgusting NCLB, which did not exist yet, anyway). I remember we spent time going around on the Ebonics issue, which I defended hotly, while wishing its champions had chosen a less foolish name. A false analogy with phonics did not help the cause.

Then, when I ran out of department support (in hindsight, probably not something I needed to really worry about: I could have cobbled together jobs that paid the same amount without TAing) I went back to my mom's in Chicago to finish the research and writing (Jesus fuck, I've just realized I can use Ancestry.com to look at the 1930 and 1940 census for Clarks, Louisiana, the epicenter of my research, oh, MAN, I am going to do that) I got a job tutoring at the high school I'd gone to -- Evanston Township High School. It was a great job. Only half-time, so not enough to live on. But twenty hours a week working with high schoolers one-on-one or in very, very small groups, on all kinds of subjects: different areas of history, English, French or Spanish... I enjoyed it immensely. And then something started happening all the time. I would create some tools to help me tutor kids on, say, The Odyssey -- the Robert Fitzgerald classic edition with the Matisse-like line sketch illustrations. Like, I found sixteen or eighteen passages that were absolutely golden from all over the book, and did a close reading with the kids ... for instance, the lines from the suitors' feast in Ithaka when Odysseus and his retainers bust in and kill them all, which include the first use of the unimaginably common phrase "bite the dust". And newish teachers, or some not new at all, would come ask if they could use my materials. My curriculum. This kept happening, and I started to feel like cutting out the middle-man. Why not become a teacher? At the same time, my sister had decided to become and elementary school teacher in Oakland, and she walked into a job, on just an emergency credential. That looked good to me, living back at home with my mother as an adult, and chafing to be earning an actual income.

I was sort of on the interview circuit for history positions, even though I hadn't started writing my diss, and I had a few interviews. At one (Doane College in Nebraska) they told me with supposed regret that they thought they were too white for me. True. At the other -- Traverse City, Michigan, a community college with UNBELIEVABLE funding sources, since it's such a tourist town -- they obviously had an inside candidate, but still flew me up to interview. That would have been a strange and interesting job. Distance learning via video to students in the U. P. Anyway, I wasn't too keen on teaching a class here and a class there, the modern adjunct migratory labor of the "freeway flyer". Ugh. And I felt like teaching public school was a more democratic option anyway, one of the few public services left in this country, and free and open to all children. Like being a public librarian, as my mother was. Also not an inconsiderable factor: teaching public school comes with a union, and union activism.

I intended to be a HIGH SCHOOL teacher, of course. But the first subbing position I got as a teacher on a sub credential in Oakland was for a middle school position, and they hired me in six weeks as a permanent employee on an emergency credential, and that was that. It's been middle school ever since. I still think longingly of high school, though. And peer through deeply rose-tinted lenses back at being a college instructor. The freedom! The joy of saying whatever you want in your lectures (yeah, yeah, as long as it is historically supported and relevant to the course description)! The ease of lecture format, compared to the entertainment factor and multiple methods we have to use in teaching middle school! I mean, my lectures were cutting edge, and visual, and audio... for 1996. For every lecture, I had a set of detailed, primary source mostly full-color, or black and white photographs, or political cartoons visuals that were printed on transparencies and projected to enormous size behind me at the podium. And I talked around and about those images, as well as bringing in audio clips or, once, singing myself. I even made a collective database project for social history through genealogy, as a project that showed exactly the demographic trends we'd been talking about, after students had first collected on paper and then entered into Filemaker Pro, four generations of their family, with demographic questions as well as the standard genealogical questions. Damn, that was fun.
maeve66: (Louise Michel)
Day 3: What's worse, the fact that kids these days wear baggy pants, or that they won't get off my damn lawn?

This topic is hard for me. First, I am a terrible literalist. I like the way [personal profile] springheel_jack approached it, but I think that being a middle school teacher just gets in the way of that. I literally see baggy pants (well, not in the English sense... just the American and possibly Canadian sense?) all day long. I used to be around screaming teenagers on their homeward commute after school, on the bus, before I had a car. That experience very much lent itself to the 'please get off my damn lawn,' feeling, though I live in an apartment. Normally, though... youth fashion doesn't bother me at all, though I find it hard to view it as aesthetically PLEASING to me. I can't get excited about 500 gym shoes with marginal differences, or track suits and athletic team jerseys as couture. But it doesn't BOTHER me. It's not that I'd rather see kids wearing something else, exactly. (This is a bit sad to admit, but I sort of like how my niece looks in her hella boring Oakland school uniform -- khaki pants or a khaki skirt, a white shirt of some sort, and/or a navy shirt, I guess? She wears clothes well, though, so probably anything would look good on her.)

The off the lawn thing... well... sometimes. God, sometimes after a tiring day at work, yes, I feel crotchety as hell. But not today, thankfully. I am having a good time, for the most part, right now, teaching how to write an argumentative essay (responding to a piece of literature, in this case, the adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" as a play with 31 parts! Almost every kid in my class had lines! Only from their seats; we didn't memorize the script and act it out. Still). I was schooled to within an inch of my life on the organization of a five paragraph essay in high school, and I am happily forcing that method on my hapless students. But I think it works well, rigid cage that it is. Once you learn the rigid cage, though, you can fly free, yet stay on topic.

I. Introductory paragraph with thesis statement
II. Body Paragraph 1
Topic Sentence
generalization introducing evidence
detail (e.g., at this point, quote from source)
explanation (aka, analysis, commentary)
Concluding Sentence
III. Body Paragraph 2, see above
IV. Body Paragraph 3, see above
V. Concluding paragraph

All the hard upfront work is done on a three by three rectangular grid, a G-D-E sheet, and then if necessary they add some transitions and maybe a Topic sentence with transitional language and a concluding sentence, and voila. It's kind of instant mix, add water, but as I say, if they learn it well enough, then they can evade it and write better than it.

But I've certainly gotten off topic right now! Ha. Anyway, it's somewhat fun to teach this in a writer's workshoppy kind of way, with kids scribbling furiously on those forms and then checking with me and getting immediate feedback. I don't get as much time as I'd like to interact with kids one-on-one, and they are like thirsty plants drinking up the focused attention.
maeve66: (angry piggy)
Or something like wish I could say but won't. Again, wtf? No. If I want to say something, I will say it, unless it could get me fired. Hm. Maybe there is something to that -- are there things I would like to say, but cannot because I need to keep my job?

1. "Just stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance. They can't make you do it. You've been ordered to stand silently, so there's that, I guess. Think subversive thoughts, though."

2. "I didn't say you were descended from a monkey. I said that evolution is how humans came to be the species we are, and that the fossils pictured in this book chart the development of hominids. No, the world is not 7,000 years old, or whatever number your church pulled out of its ass, er, I mean, Bible."

3. "Yeah, that is what I said. I'm fine if you think I'm a dyke, go for it. No, you can't use anything to do with gender or sexuality as an insult in here, in any way whatever, same as racial stereotypes won't fly."

4. "Damn right I am pro-choice. Free national health care and free abortions on demand. Oh, and I'm an atheist, too."


Aug. 23rd, 2012 09:45 pm
maeve66: (me in sixth grade)
God, I loathe teacher meetings. And I loathe my school district. Oakland Unified would NEVER pull this kind of shit on teachers. The morning session of today's "Professional Development" meetings featured, a) a lot of blah blah blah on the new, supposedly nationwide "Common Core State Standards", which, in 2014 will lead to new standardized tests which will supposedly have more to do with hands-on demonstration of mastery of skills. I am interested to see how they will score these. But even in that part of the presentation, it was mostly just stupid acronyms and a lot of menacing passive aggression from the horrible attack dog administrator who swans around the district popping into classrooms to grill students on what standards they are being taught that day. And at the end of her spiel, b) she forced us to watch this video. I wanted to scrub my brain out afterwards. I hate shit like this so, so, so fucking much.

The second half of the morning session was on equity, which means that white teachers should stop disproportionately referring black students on discipline issues, and recommending them for expulsion, although the rules about expulsion are kind of hard and fast and if you have a knife, you have to be expelled. I mean, I totally agree with the principles here, it's just the dude delivering the message strikes me as a careerist opportunist who does not have one useful tool to offer clueless teachers except guilt. The images for this half were marginally better than the butterfly effect video, because the guy had a powerpoint with slides from the old days of innocent and happy hip hop by, e.g. Monie Love and Grand Master Flash versus later evil developments like NWA and Nicki Minaj. He said nothing like Monie Love exists any more, and I wanted to say "What about Willow Smith's 'I Am Me'?" I am kind of stuck on that video actually; she's hella cute. I know she's the daughter of multibillionaire actors and all, but I love a short natural, honestly, and gawky tall girls, and sometimes even autotune.

Okay, fine, it's not hip hop. Still.
maeve66: (Hiroshige lady)
... a celebrity I don't enjoy? That would be most of them. Another teenage topic, I swan.

Let's see. I wanted to succeed in going to my grave without knowing what Justin Bieber looked like, but I think I failed to reach that goal, if only because of the semi-Bieber themed Glee episode. I don't enjoy the Hilton-Kardashian-Windsor famous because they're rich or royal celebrities. I don't enjoy most political celebrities. I don't really enjoy celebrity is the truth, I think. I like people who are famous for doing something well, who nonetheless seem like they MIGHT be kind of regular if given a chance. Or people I can IMAGINE are like that, like, e.g. John Cusack, Stephen Rea, that guy who always stars in John Sayles movies, and played an excellent Wobbly. I like scientist celebrities, like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Stephen J. Gould, Lewis Thomas, Marie Curie. And I like left wing political or historical celebrities, like most revolutionaries.

Which reminds me, I need to have a list of African-Americans that I come up with myself to talk about each day of February in my social studies class, though we are studying medieval Japan right now. But that was the mandate from the office, today. I guess I like being given free rein to bring in whomever *I* want to talk about. Okay, the first few are done; I will work on the rest this weekend.

Feb. 1 -- Olaudah Equiano -- Enslaved Nigerian, worked in American colonies, wrote first recognized slave autobiography which became crucial propaganda in the abolitionist movement in Britain, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African [1745-1797]
Feb. 2 -- Crispus Attucks [1723-1770]
Feb. 3 -- Phyllis Wheatley [1753-1784]

Feb. 6 -- Nat Turner [1800-1831]
Feb. 7 -- Mary Jane Seacole [1805-1881] (thanks, [personal profile] springheel_jack!
Feb. 8 -- Joseph Cinque [1814-1879]
Feb. 9 -- Frederick Douglass [1818-1895]
Feb. 10 -- Madam C. J. Walker [1867-1919]

Feb. 14 -- W. E. B. DuBois [1868-1963]
Feb. 15 -- Zora Neale Hurston [1891-1960]
Feb. 16 -- Bessie Coleman [1892-1926]
Feb. 17 -- Langston Hughes [1902-1967]

Feb. 21 -- Josephine Baker [1906-1975]
Feb. 22 -- Fannie Lou Hamer [1917-1977]
Feb. 23 -- Lorraine Hansberry [1930-1965]
Feb. 24 -- Hank Aaron [1934- ]
Feb. 25 -- Angela Davis [1944- ]

Feb. 28 -- Octavia Butler [1947-2006]
Feb. 29 -- Little Bobby Hutton [1950-1968]

Now I have to go grab a bunch of Hiroshige images and put them in iPhoto and then on a flash drive, to show as a slideshow tomorrow in class.
maeve66: (black and white tea)
Day 12 -- What's in my bag, in great detail.

Yeah. I carry a shoulder bag -- the kind that is called a messenger bag, I think? I have had this preference since middle school, and I wish I still had the cheap vinyl one I had then -- it was a cheerful red plastic/vinyl plaid. Unfortunately, these bags are not brilliantly constructed and strong, so they never last as long as I would like.

The ones I have now (I use one until it is on the edge of collapse, and then trade for the other and try to repair the first, then switch again, eventually) I got at Cost Plus, or whatever it's called now. World Market. There was a stand with five different colors and I couldn't decide so I got two. I wish I'd gotten all five. I REALLY wish I'd gotten all five. Here they are:

I do not like purses, generally.

In my bag: keys, wallet, iPod, nice earphones for the iPod and phone hands-free device in a little case, checkbook, with no checks, in a nice interlace-pattern tooled leather holder, lanyard with school ID and school keys, large comb, hair barrette with cloth flower on it, plastic film canister which I put my morning's pills in because I never manage to eat breakfast before leaving for work, and I can't take them until I've eaten, a black mesh bag which contains all the little sundry items like pens and pencils (MANY), eyeglass cleaner and cloths, ibuprofin, lip balm, pencil leads, nail files, etc. You may suspect my motto is 'be prepared'... and finally, my iPad. Occasionally I also try to stuff in my journal, which is bulky and heavy, and a wireless keyboard, which is really an inch or two too long for the bag.

Day 13 -- what was this one? My week in great detail? God, also pretty damn dull. Do I even recall it well enough?

Monday -- the weekend seemed too short. I got to work at 7:15 or thereabouts, stopping at Starbucks on the way, because I couldn't deal with making breakfast and getting to work early enough. My lesson plans and the copies I needed were on my front desk, ready to go, and I had time to change the "Whiteboard Configuration" so it was accurate for the day. I taught Math -- problem solving methods -- and then did the first laboratory experiment ever with my science classes -- a "Senses Lab" where there were five stations, three with blindfolds.

At the hearing station, a group of four students plugged into the listening stations and listened to 10 recorded sounds on a CD, writing down what they could identify. Apparently many of them confused a coyote's howl with a woman screaming or moaning. At the tasting station, they put on blindfolds and took one piece out of four different bags, tasting it (eating it, really) and writing down what they thought it was, and whether it was bitter, salt, sweet, or sour. The tastes were: pretzel, bitter chocolate, dill pickle, and skittles (a candy... it's kind of a sour candy, so I think we could have done better on sweet). A couple of kids told me about allergies to chocolate in time, thank god. At the touch station, they were again blindfolded and felt four objects concealed in paper bags -- a golf ball, a pinecone, sandpaper, and cotton balls. At the smelling station, same thing, blindfolds, then coffee, peppermint, garlic, and ... god, what was the fourth smell? Lavender, maybe. And the vision station, which was nonsense, I'm afraid. I had nothing to do with that. It was a little picture with hidden drawings in it, like from a bland children's magazine.

If I'd had time to plan that, I might have wanted some of those optical illusion illustrations -- not only the ones where you misjudge the length of what you're looking at or whatever, but the kind that have hidden pictures in the color backgrounds that you can only see if you unfocus your eyes. Anyway, I'd been terrified about classroom management during this lab, but it went fairly well, at least for the 4th period class. My 5th period science class has 37 students. That was harder. Then, more Math. I stayed at work planning and venting and destressing and making copies and organizing stuff. For a very long time.

Tuesday, same program, with the one science class that hadn't had the lab yet. Notes from the science book with the other two classes. More problem solving with the Math classes.

Wednesday -- our 'minimum day', wherein students' classes are shortened to 32 minutes, and they leave at 12:18. We then get lunch and then have time for common planning meetings. And other, less useful meetings. On this Wednesday, we took down the Senses Lab and set up the next one -- two in one week, god, I hope that's not common! Then we talked about how we were going to grade the labs, and what we should be starting on after the problem solving mini-unit in Math.

Thursday -- again early, but today there was mass computer based testing. That is, for my classes, these tests were Thursday and Friday, for Math. For science, we did the lab we'd set up Wednesday afternoon. This next lab was one on practicing observation skills and measurement of time and motion. We set up physics stands, a ramp, and a stage. For the lab, one student counted off seconds "zero one-thousand, one one-thousand, two one-thousand..." and another let a wooden car start rolling down the ramp the moment he or she heard 'zero'. A third student marked on tape below the rolling car where it got to at 'one', 'two', and 'three' -- or more, depending. Then they measured the intervals in centimeters to try to determine whether the car went faster as it went downhill.

Friday -- finished up the computer-based testing. Discussed what scientists students have already heard of (not many) and talked about scientific facts, laws, and theories. Did some housekeeping stuff related to grading. Stayed late and organized, planned like mad for Monday and Tuesday, made copies.

There. That's pretty damn dull. Did anything NOT teaching related happen this past week? I ate dinner at my sister's on the way home on Thursday, on the spur of the moment. I was so hungry and I knew I'd just stop for fast food, because I couldn't deal with the thought of cooking. But my mom called and offered to feed me their leftover table scraps. Not really. Their leftovers, though, yes. It was good -- something T. cobbled together from his perusal of cooking sites on the internet. Sort of a stir fry: frozen veggies from Trader Joe's, frozen small shrimp, also Trader Joe's, quinoa, garlic and other herbs and spices, some oil, some fresh greens, I think. And soy sauce. My mom described it as comfort food. It was.

God, I think I am caught up, more or less.
maeve66: (some books)
Bah, I didn't manage yesterday. So I'll do two today. I keep promising 200 words only, and failing to keep that promise.

I'm done with historical YA fiction, I think. But now I think I need to look back at the earliest parts of this, well, series, I guess, to see which favored authors I covered and which I didn't. I haven't been doing them in order, exactly, and the original list itself (which has been augmented while I've been writing these, as names occurred to me) was pretty random.

Sydney Taylor

J. D. Fitzgerald

Ruth Sawyer

This is a group that is... sort of related to historical fiction and sort of related to 19th c. classics -- essentially because these authors wrote pretty much about the times they themselves lived through, which are now very clearly 'history'. I think all of them were children in the 1880s or 1890s... well, Taylor might be later. She may have written in the early fifties. But it was also about her own childhood in the 'teens. I'll do her first.

Sydney Taylor wrote a series of books -- the All of a Kind Family books -- telling stories about her own family growing up -- Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the 1910s. I loved these books, growing up. The family is a stair-step family of girls, until the final child, the long-awaited son, is born. There is Ella, the oldest, then Henny (Henrietta), the tomboy with the incongruous blond curls, then Sarah, the bookworm, and finally Charlotte and Gertie. Their father is a rag and bottle and trash collector -- basically a recycler. The stories are full of details of Jewish home life in the first generation after immigration: Sabbath on Friday night, gefilte fish made from fresh carp kept in the bathtub until just before it's made, Passover Seders and Sukkoths, Yom Kippur and Charlie, the baby's boy's bris.

There are also the kinds of details that make an era come alive: New York's subway, pickle barrels and cracker barrels where you get a scoop for a penny. Penny candy. Public libraries and their importance to children. Settlement Houses. Pinafores and organdy dresses. When Henny 'borrows' Ella's only fancy white dress to wear to a party, and it gets stained, the mother at the party saves the day by dyeing the dress with tea. When the mother wants to encourage the girls to do their chores well, she hides buttons -- and once in a while an actual penny, which was almost untold wealth, to them -- in the weird, out of the way places they might forget to dust. I loved it all. I grew up in a town that had a healthy Jewish population, and these books made me feel less ignorant. Maybe even slightly envious and impressed and interested. I bet my niece will love them. I think I have them, or most of them, in paperback... I have to find out, when -- this week -- I sort out my classroom library for getting rid of. Or for transporting the books I don't want to own personally to school. One of those two options. Only the ones I am most passionate about are going to remain in my closets, that's all I can say. And the Taylor books would definitely fit.

The next author, J. D. Fitzgerald writes so engagingly and in such a believable kid's voice that it is somehow hard to believe that he is describing his own (suitably exaggerated and embellished) childhood, with his conniving older brother Tom D. Fitzgerald, known as The Great Brain, because he is so good at scheming and moneymaking and, basically, swindling other children and sometimes even adults. His series is set in Utah in the 1890s, possibly just as it is shifting from territory to state, but while some remnants of Old West still remain. A major theme in the book (aside from all of Tom's shenanigans) is the tension and balance of social power between the majority Mormons and the very small minority of 'Gentiles', meaning non LDS Christians, I guess. Adenville, Utah is a small town, and the Fitzgerald boys (there's also a sort of boring older brother named Sweyn) live with their parents -- their father, who is the editor of the town newspaper, and their mother, a housewife, and 'Aunt Bertha', an unrelated spinster who lives with them -- as the only Catholics in the town. Tom is incredibly intelligent and sly and sneaky and charismatic and arrogant. And J.D., his little brother, looks up to him and occasionally is incredibly angry with him. The books are fantastic, every one of them, although I will talk about my two favorites. There are eight books in the series, though one was posthumously assembled from notes. Unsurprisingly, it is the weakest.

The Great Brain, More Adventures of the Great Brain, Me and My Little Brain, The Great Brain at the Academy, The Great Brain Reforms, The Great Brain Does it Again, and The Great Brain is Back.

For me, the best two are Me and My Little Brain and the one which follows it, The Great Brain at the Academy. In the first of these, J. D. is the hero, and he is indeed a hero. Also, it introduces an excellent character, the orphaned Frankie Pennyworth, described by J. D. at one point as "Frankenstein Dollarworth" because he is a monster and a dollar's worth of trouble. And the second one is both a boarding school story -- always something I liked as a kid -- and a story of fomenting rebellion against authority, in this case Catholic priests who teach at this Jesuit school. The plotline about Tom smuggling in candy to sell is ... well, great. Like his brain.

Finally, Ruth Sawyer was a children's author who grew up on the East Coast and wrote about New York in the 1890s, and also the coast of Maine, same era. She -- and her fictional protagonist for those two books, Lucinda Wyman -- was from a wealthy New York society family whose fortunes crashed around the Panic of 1893. They retrenched by selling everything in NYC and moving to their summer home in Maine. Lucinda's rebellion against the strictures and confining beliefs about girls, and especially upper class girls is the plot of Roller Skates, in which book the girl's parents go to Italy and leave her boarding with two of her teachers, who do not exercise anything like the traditional control over her. She has roller skates and uses them to roam the entire city, making friends with people she encounters from an Italian barrow boy to a journalist she calls Mr. Nightowl, to a poor violinist and his family in a tenement, to an abused Middle Eastern wife of some rich Bluebeard living in a hotel. There is sadness in the book, but it's also funny and lovely. The sequel, The Year of the Jubilo takes Lucinda and her returned mother and brothers to Maine. She's older and less able to inhabit a half-fantasy world in the second book, but it is still wonderful. Sawyer's Roller Skates won the 1937 Newbery Medal. And -- I love this bit of trivia -- speaking of Maine, her daughter, Peggy, who became a Children's Librarian (makes me think of our wonderful librarian-that-was, at my school, in my district, which has abolished librarians below the high school level... BRILLIANT) married Robert McCloskey of Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, and Blueberries for Sal fame. Those are his East Coast books. His Midwestern books (equally wonderful) are Homer Price, Centerburg Tales, and Lentil. God, I love those books. What a great pedigree children of McCloskey's had... I can just see them, total little beatniks in the 1950s.
maeve66: (some books)
I know I keep saying that I am going to hew more strictly to 200 words, but honestly, tonight I think I will. Writing this on a Saturday night is... bah, not what I would rather be doing. Yes, I could have written it at any point today, and did not.

Off topic: what I *did* do this evening, before writing this was to watch a Bollywood romcom on Netflix Instant Watch... one I hadn't seen. That isn't as easy a procedure as one might think. I mean, watching one is easy enough. Choosing one, on the other hand... oy. Last night I tried one called Life Partner and I could only take about three minutes of it. I generally love B'wood, but that thing was horrific. And I couldn't even really tell you why. Entitled obnoxious Indian males being 'humorous' about how oppressive marriage is? Rich NRIs swanning around in sports cars outracing (slow, ground-bound) single seater airplanes? I don't know, but it was incredibly wretched, and I turned it off even before all the opening credits were done.

Tonight, I gritted my teeth and tried again. I liked the movie much better -- it was Dil Kabaddi which I think would translate to Wrestling Hearts, or Heart Wrestling, something like that. It's odd I even know that, and it's only because I watched Raajneeti at the Fremont Big Cinemas 7 with M., several weeks ago. And that sport is in the movie. And M. already knew what it was, though he could not succeed at explaining the rules to me. At all. Anyway, this was an okay movie about modern marriage and infidelity. Annoying and also fun to listen to and see how much I could pick up... quite a lot. It's slowly seeping in, this language, even if I have done almost none of my planned Hindi studying, this summer. I liked the cast, though I am starting to believe that Irrfan Khan is incapable of being in a Bollywood movie that is at all masala. If he's in it, it is going to be more or less arty or mainstream Western style. With bad to no item numbers. But man, I like Soha Ali Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma, especially the latter. I have never seen her do a bad job, ever, Konkona Sen Sharma.

Oh. Yeah. This entry is supposed to be about YAF. Oops. I don't have many historical YAF authors left. Christopher Paul Curtis is the guy for this entry. He's an excellent, excellent, politically and socially conscious writer of historical YAF. Christopher Paul Curtis wrote The Watsons go to Birmingham and Bud, Not Buddy, both of which have won awards and are used constantly in schools. Curtis is black, and he uses his family's experiences in his books. Man, the Wiki article on Curtis is WELL worth reading: dude is from Flint, Michigan, and worked for thirteen years on the Buick assembly line! Dayum. Now that's a motivation for me. Not that I needed one; I have read two of his books and am eagerly looking forward to reading a third.

The Watsons go to Birmingham is straight fictionalized history around the time of the Civil Rights (or Black Freedom) Movement. A black family from the North travel South to stay with relatives and are caught up in the struggles in Birmingham, Alabama. I don't need to say that the book is a tearjerker, do I? It's very well done, though. Much, much better than Robinet's attempt to depict the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

His next major book, Bud, Not Buddy moves from the 60s to the Depression, in the 1930s. An orphan runs away, intending to find his father, who he believes is a band leader of a group called So-and-So and "The Dusky Devastators of the Depression" which is the best name I've ever heard of for a band, and is also apparently straight from Curtis's family history. Bud is engaging and believable, with his unending list of randomly numbered lessons/rules for life. I have never met a student who was not sucked into that story.

Finally, his most recent novel goes further back still, to the life of a freedman -- or a freedboy, anyway -- living in Ontario, Canada. I really want to get Elijah of Buxton. It too is based in a historically real setting, and I have always been curious both about the Underground Railroad and about the end stations in Canada. Is there (I'm asking the lazyweb here) any major national museum in the US of the Underground RR? Shouldn't there be one near Cincinnati or something? Oh, and Elijah of Buxton features Frederick Douglass as a character, hurrah! My favorite rhetorician, ever.
maeve66: (some books)
Almost forgot. Man, five more posts after this one.

James Lincoln Collier has been writing historical YAF since the 1960s, and the book he's probably best known for -- which he cowrote with his brother, Christopher Collier, as he did several others -- is My Brother Sam is Dead, written in 1975. I used to see it on the shelf at the Evanston Public Library, as I would run my finger along the bottom looking for titles I hadn't read that sounded interesting. It's about the American Revolution, and the quandary of Tory families. That's an interesting topic. But I chose to read Esther Forbes' 1944 Newbery Award winning Johnny Tremain, instead. Now that's an excellent book, with plenty of historical detail of silversmithing, Paul Revere, Boston, the lead up to the American Revolution, and a great struggle to overcome adversity. My Brother Sam is Dead is just not that good. Better than that is Collier's trilogy, also about the early American Republic, but taking on the issue of slavery.

Jump Ship to Freedom is a YAF novel about a young man, Daniel, whose father won his freedom by fighting for the Continental Army, but who died while out fishing, after the war, before he could buy his son's and wife's freedom. He had saved his pay, in Continental army scrip, and much of the plot of the book revolves around whether Daniel will be able to convert that worthless paper into actual money. Daniel escapes to pursue that dream, and ends up in New York City, where he interacts with members of the Constitutional Convention. Essentially, Christopher Collier was a historian who fed his writer brother facts to make accessible to preteens, so what I can say about this book is that it's a pretty good explanation of the three-fifths clause as the linch pin of passing the Constitution. Which doesn't augur particularly well for the brilliance of plot, characterization, or dialogue. Still, it's pretty good. I've used it as a teaching tool a few times, in fact, and own, somewhere, a class set, in paperback. The books which complete the trilogy are War Comes to Willy Freeman and Who is Carrie?.

Strangely, though, his best book is (okay, actually this is not that strange; it makes perfect sense, as I will explain in a minute): The Jazz Kid, which is about a white kid in Chicago in the 1920s who falls in love with black music -- with jazz. This subject is obviously close to Collier's heart, as according to Wikipedia he is, himself, a jazz musician. And the protagonist is white, as he is himself. I don't think he writes black characters particularly successfully, which isn't a huge shock. I can only think of one or two white authors who manage it at all. Maybe just one; I'll have to think about it. I mean, as a main character. Still, The Jazz Kid, of all of these, is well worth reading. It's far more culturally convincing and nuanced than all of his other books combined (though I have not read the one about the beatnik guitar teacher, called The Teddy Bear Hero.)
maeve66: (some books)
Bah, I'm a post behind again. What got me so busy yesterday? Well, for a teacher's summer and a teacher-who-is-unemployed's summer, I was kind of busy, what with aqua with [livejournal.com profile] amarama, diabetic retinopathy screening photos, celebratory organic ice cream with [livejournal.com profile] annathebean and [livejournal.com profile] kaleidescope for the latter's new job, and picking up [livejournal.com profile] john_b_cannon at BART after his flight home from Kansas -- yay, [livejournal.com profile] john_b_cannon is back in town, hurrah. He and I went out for late night food at a café in Emeryville called Rudy Can't Fail, which always makes me think of the Clash song, but [livejournal.com profile] john_b_cannon said he never had a Clash period, so he didn't know the song. Which just seems weird to me, but may only mark our age difference. I told him about how this boy in my 7th grade French class, Jon Jacobson, sidled up to me -- a very brave taking-of-risk on his part because I was absolutely student-non-grata in middle school... beneath the very idea of pecking order, though also learning not to ever, ever give a shit about that kind of thing, which was an excellent life lesson... hm, to balance that description, I was also well known as the school Commie, which was fine with me. The school Commie-dyke-pinko-Iranian-lover, to be specific. In 1978. ANYWAY, Jon Jacobson sidled up to me, that year, and literally kind of whispered out the side of his mouth... "[my name], do you know this group, the Clash? You should really get some of their albums..." and then sidled away again, quickly. I love that my politics forced him to make this dangerous social excursion. And, of course, I loved the Clash as soon as I went out and got London Calling and later, Sandinista!.

Right, none of that has anything to do with YAF. Though at that moment I was probably carrying, and had possibly even been reading, a young adult fiction book. I was the kind of kid who could walk into a light pole or a parking meter while reading.

Okay, then, where were we? Ah! Karen Cushman. She's great. She singlehandedly reintroduced the vast subgenre of English medieval historical novels to a new generation, and a generation of girls, at that. She has also branched out into other territory, and is equally good there.

So, background: I loved this subgenre when I was in elementary school. My fourth and fifth grade teacher, Ms. Weingartner (she who smoked in the classroom and drank endless Tabs) used to read aloud to us (which is probably why I think it is an incredibly important thing to do, too, even though I teach middle school). One of the books she read was Marguerite de Angeli's The Door in the Wall, which was about a boy in medieval London who is crippled by disease (polio?) and loses the use of his legs. It's about how he is taken care of by a friar, and learns to look for a different future than his expected one of being a knight. It's funny; I loved that book and the archaic language and the details of medieval England, but I have just read Amazon reviews, and even all the reviews that are strongly positive are like "kids will hate this, don't, for god's sake, assign it or you will strangle their love of reading stillborn!!!!1! zomg!" Weird. Well, as noted, I was a weirdo. I don't remember anyone else in my fourth grade class hating it, but then maybe I was completely insensible to their reactions. I am like that when reading or hearing a story or drawing. Just like my older niece, ha! Anyway, though, in general, most medieval fic was aimed at boys, was about knights and castles and adventures and serving the king or whatever. And I loved it. I just imagined my way in as a boy, I guess.

But then, thirty years later, Karen Cushman broke upon the scene with her first published book (not at all my favorite) Catherine, Called Birdy. It was such a ray of better gendered light that it pretty much was immediately added to the school canon, as was her second (much better, in my opinion) book, The Midwife's Apprentice. Catherine, Called Birdy was about a knight, and a manor if not a castle, and his family, and serfs, including dog boys (nod to T. H. White's The Once and Future King). But there the resemblances stopped.

The protagonist is the daughter of a minor lord, discontented with her lot, unusually literate, and in danger of being married off as an economic transaction. She keeps a diary, and this is the problem with the book -- it gets very tedious to follow that format, and most entries are too wrapped up in BEING entries, in comments about the day, the date, the process of writing a diary, and the wacky long story of which crazy-ass Saint's day this is, and what gruesome death that wacky Saint died. That's interesting and funny for a while, but then becomes kind of repetitive and tedious. My other problem with the book was that I kept wondering how incredibly anachronistic it was, to put these self-liberatory thoughts -- the metaphor is the birds that Catherine loves, but to love, keeps in cages... she's a caged bird, too, flapping her wings against the bars -- in a girl's head in the 1100s or whenever it is. During one of the earlier Crusades. But it is a very good book, anyway, especially as the first thing Cushman wrote.

Her second book was also an instant school classic -- I read it to students myself, at least twice, in West Oakland. And The Midwife's Apprentice is a very good book for that, both because the writing is clear and simple, for read alouds with students who are not at grade level in reading, and because the book's point is about the importance of coming to love and believe in yourself. Also, literacy is a fantastic idea. Kids really responded to both her circumstances -- homeless and living literally in shit -- and to her slow realization of self-worth. Their emotions were engaged and they were rooting for her.

Dungbeetle -- as the main character is known, because of how she tries to keep heat in her body at night -- is a homeless orphan trying to scratch a living begging and doing odd jobs, in medieval England. She goes from village to village, staying until she's driven away. At the opening of the book the girl, who seems to be about twelve or so, is rousted from her bed, which is burrowed into the dung-filled manure heap in a byre, by a grouchy woman who is the village midwife. This woman, Jane, known as Jane Sharp for her sharp nose and sharp tongue and generally sharp outlook -- thus the Middle Ages origins of English-language surnames is introduced in the book, with many other examples -- takes Dungbeetle in as a general dogsbody, allowing her to sleep in the rushes on the floor and eat scraps. The book is very good in its detail about what people would have been likely to eat, according to their stations -- the joy in eating a turnip or onion, for example, or an apple, is extreme, for Beetle. As the short book proceeds, there are small adventures which throw light on ordinary social practices, but the main thrust is whether the girl can gain skills and belief in herself, and how. I highly recommend this book -- it's really, really good.

Cushman has written other books set in medieval England, and they're very good too -- Matilda Bone is about a girl whose clerk father dies, and while she is cared for (and taught) by the church men she lives with, is eventually handed over for apprenticing to a bonesetter. This bonesetter, Red Peg, is an earthy and independent woman who utterly oversets the general old-fashioned chivalric notion (from YAF, I mean) of what women in medieval England were like. Since such notions were never located anywhere below the nobility, that's not surprising. But it's an interesting exploration of medieval notions of medicine and science, as well as ideas of class and social status -- beneath the level of nobility. In a way, it's almost an answer to A Door in the Wall, because Matilda wants desperately to become a learned Abbess or clerk like her father (which is impossible, the latter, as becoming a knight became impossible for the boy in de Angeli's story) but slowly has to let go of her snobbishness and accept where she is, eventually finding pleasure in it. I haven't read Alchemy and Meggy Swann yet, but I look forward to it. Maybe today!

Cushman's other three books are historical, but not medieval. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple is about a girl uprooted to a California gold mining 'town', in ways similar to both Patricia Beatty's works, and Kathryn Lasky's. It's good, though not among my favorites. Rodzina is her exploration of the Orphan Trains, which took the orphaned offscourings (or not orphaned; parents who didn't have the money to support kids could also drop them off to this organization) of Eastern city slums West to be either adopted or... well, the adoptions could seem more like bound labor, though I guess they were all legally adoptions. Rodzina is the awkward, plain, somewhat bellicose daughter of Eastern European immigrants -- Poles, I think, though I don't remember. And she is suspicious of this process throughout the journey. Again, a good book, but not my favorite.

My favorite? The Loud Silence of Francine Green -- which is a school story, of sorts, but also part of my absolute favorite tiny subgenre: stories of the countercultural 1950s. This book makes a great companion piece to two of my recent favorites, by local author Ellen Klages. I'll talk about hers later. Meanwhile, Francine Green is the daughter of two fairly liberal Catholic middle class folks in Southern California, who meets the daughter of a screenwriter because Sophie Bowman is transferred into her class in a parochial school. Sophie and her father are Bohemians, more or less, and her father is at least a fellow traveler (none of the heroes of these books are ever actually in the CP, sigh... they're always heroic fellow travelers persecuted for being CLOSE to people who were actually in the Party). Francine learns to be more open in her challenging of the stifling mold of 50s culture, and to question hegemony. Yeah, basically that's the plot. It's a great book.
maeve66: (some books)
I'm trying to get this post done long before midnight. That would be good.

I said I would write about one of my favorite subgenres -- historical YAF -- and I am going to start doing that. Oddly, though I love it very much, right now I do not see as many authors' names as I would have expected. Possibly they will keep coming back to me. As I said earlier, I refuse to write much about the didactic and annoying Ann Rinaldi. And I've already written about Laurence Yep. But there are more!

For this entry:

Scott O'Dell

Rosemary Sutcliff

Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Well, that's about three for each entry, I am guessing. Though as I say, I may think of others. Note that I am starting with a man. Mostly that's because I want to get him out of the way. I do not enjoy the writing style of Scott O'Dell, though I grant that his extremely famous novel Island of the Blue Dolphins deserves its fame and its inclusion in plenty of reading curricula. Not that there is time, any more, to teach entire novels in middle school Language Arts classes -- oh, NO, we must spend the time teaching writing in various formats, grammar (well, sort of), and analysis of 'literature' through short fiction in textbooks. Which mostly don't have any canonical short stories anymore, anyway. Sometimes, if I am lucky, they have EXCERPTS from good YAF novels, such as, e.g. Karen Cushman.

Anyway. Scott O'Dell. He covers a lot of historical ground and eras, but specializes in indigenous cultures of the Americas, which is worth while. Not many people do that well, though as I said in an earlier entry, I think that Clare Bell did it better with regard to tribes subject to the Mayan empire. He's good at different cultures. He has that flat male affect I do not enjoy in fiction. Should reads for Scott O'Dell: Island of the Blue Dolphin, published in 1960... I'm thinking his 1969 Journey to Jericho sounds pretty good, too, though that may be because it sounds a great deal like the historical novels I prefer by Patricia Beatty. It's about an Appalachian miner's son following his father to California. Hm. Some of the reviews call it "a long short story" and praise the simplicity of its writing. That's exactly why I don't much like O'Dell.

Rosemary Sutcliff, on the other hand... you know, her tone is semi-affectless, too. By which I guess I mean it is emotionally detached. Hers, I suspect, though, is that way because she was writing historical YA fiction in the 1950s, jostling with male writers, and dedicated to scholarship. She reminds me a bit of Mary Renault, though of course, I don't know whether (and doubt) she was a dyke. Anyway, her very excellent books are most often about various aspects of pre-Roman and Roman Britain, including an excellently unromanticized (or at least, romanticized in a very different way) take on King Arthur. She's sort of a poet of the 'dying of the light' which she clearly believes happens when Rome gives up on controlling Britain and then, to boot, its empire is overrun by Germanic barbarians. I own a lot of her books. She was writing largely in the 1950s, but continued on into the 60s, 70s, and at least had some reprinting going on in the 1980s. Her stuff is all very male-centric (much as Renault's is) and stoic. I sort of think of it as the kind of thinking a pre-feminist does: screw what girls are supposed to like, I'm going to be like a BOY... with some unacknowledged dislike of inferior female characters. Anyway, I forgive her this, because I like her historical detail.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw is a welcome rebuttal to that kind of writing, though she didn't get much published. Still, her two main books are perennial favorites, and give GREAT daily life details for Ancient Egypt. Her Mara, Daughter of the Nile is a romance, a spy adventure, a historical imagining of the past (with a certain analysis of Hatshepsut which more recent revisionists would scorn)... it's great. Aimed at teenage girls. I have managed to interest some of my students in this book. One of my favorite girls this past year -- half of a pair of twins... and I had both of them, though luckily not in the same period -- she liked the book so much that she drew me her version of the cover, which I promptly fake-laminated and stuck on my wall. Needless to say, I've kept it with the best of my student work and took it home when I emptied my classroom, this past June. McGraw also has a book aimed at younger kids, called The Golden Goblet. It's a good mystery and adventure, and gives great detail about the lives of Ancient Egypt's craftsmen. Really, you learn so much from these books... which is part of my fascination with them. Such a painless way to pick up information. She's written on American history, too (one of the many 'white captive' novels, if I recall correctly, Moccasin Trail) and according to Wikipedia, won three Newbery medals in three different decades, which is pretty awesome. Her last novel (she was born in 1915 and died in 2000, making her my grandmother's almost exact contemporary, which is interesting) was The Moorchild, which, again if I recall correctly, dabbled in fantasy -- the notion of changelings. Seriously, though, read Mara, Daughter of the Nile. It's excellent.

I'll continue with the other authors tomorrow.
maeve66: (some books)
Five entries in a row, man.

Laurence Yep. He gets a whole entry to himself.

Laurence Yep is a Chinese-American young adult fiction author whose second novel, Dragonwings, was published in 1975. He'd written a sci-fi young adult novel two years earlier, and it's good, too -- and strange in a way that for me, marks reasonable sci fi.

Anyway, Dragonwings, which I read for the first time not too many years after it was published, is the story of a young Chinese immigrant to the land of the 'Golden Mountain', e.g. the US, around 1903 or so. Maybe a bit earlier. It is set in Chinatown in San Francisco, and then, after the 1906 earthquake, in the Oakland hills. The spark that set Yep off was a newspaper story from near the turn of the century about a Chinese pilot of one of the earliest airplanes... right after the Wright brothers, with one of those wood-and-canvas boxy prop planes.

It's a brilliant book. It's fantastic with its historical detail, about Chinatown at the time, about the 1906 earthquake, and about early aviation. It was of its time, the mid 1970s, in that it turned ethnic stereotypes on their heads. I remember reading it and loving that when the boy spoke with his father, they spoke in Chinese -- the Cantonese dialect -- and it was in italics, so you could see that there was a whole other life going on. It allowed the characters to comment on what white Americans were saying to them, and sort of turned the "other" thing around. There were also interesting moments where the boy, Moon Shadow, reacted with distrust and in some cases disgust to (white) American customs, such as drinking milk. There are details about opium addiction, and immigration law, and tongs (which Yep rescues from the clichéd Hollywood/Charlie Chan view of them, describing them as neighborhood mutual associations...)

The book is so good that it was adopted fairly early in plenty of middle school reading programs, as a novel that should be read in sixth or seventh grade. I have taught it probably two or three times -- it's not an easy read for sixth graders, or at least not for the sixth graders I taught in Oakland, years ago. There is a lot of metaphorical language and good, strong vocabulary.

After the success of Dragonwings, Yep wrote other things too -- but he kept coming back to some fictional version of this Chinese immigrant, and later, Chinese-American family. He went forward in time to the 1960s, and then backwards in time to the 1860s, with two stories of Moon Shadow's ancestors, or nearly. It's a little complicated. I think I've tried to draw a family tree and gotten kind of tangled up in it. But, again, the stories are fantastic examples of historical fiction for young adults, with incredible (and interestingly written, not didactic and boring or lectury) detail about China, and the province that Canton (Guangdong) is in, with its rebellious stirrings against the Manchus. Yep then went forward and wrote two novels about the earlier Chinese immigrant experience, with the Chinese laborers who were building the eastward-stretching railroad, and then, miners and anti-Chinese racism in mining towns. The most recent book in the Lee family series (I haven't read this one, yet... I was waiting for paperback, but it must be in paperback by now) sort of completes his cycle by linking the second Lee book -- Child of the Owl, which is set in the 1960s, with that protagonist's father, a Chinese-American teen who played basketball, in Dragon Road, in the 1940s.

He's written a lot of Chinese-set fantasies, too, and contemporary mysteries set around Chinatown. But it's his family chronicles "of the Golden Mountain" that I love the most. This is a list of the books, in chronological order, with the rough years covered:

The Serpent's Children roughly 1849
Mountain Light it SAYS 1885, which doesn't make much sense ... I think it should be the 1870s or so...
Dragon's Gate 1876, Transcontinental RR
The Traitor 1885, in the US -- mining camps
Dragonwings 1903 -- San Francisco and the Bay Area... and the 1906 Earthquake
Dragon Road 1939 -- Chinatown in SF
Child of the Owl 1965 -- Chinatown in SF
Sea Glass 1970 -- Monterey-ish, I think. There's abalone diving, that's all I remember.

There's another series, more contemporary, that I think is also really good:

The Cook's Family and
The Amah

I highly recommend everything he's written, to be honest. A fantasy of mine is to be wandering around Pacific Grove and just randomly meet Laurence Yep. He lives there.
I don't know exactly why I haven't updated for shit, recently. It's summer; I've got the time. I'm doing pretty well at not falling into my general summer habit of staying up ridiculously late and then sleeping during the day. Partly, my summer is starting off with classes and trainings that don't really permit that.

Anyway, I thought I would use this entry to kill two birds with one stone: continue writing about some of the YAF authors on my long, long, long-assed list, and make what I write one of the assignments I turn in for the final class I need to take to clear my multiple subject teaching credential. I hope it is the final class. I may need to take CPR again (so annoying) and I have to prove to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing that I DID take the stupid Health Ed requirement. Which I did. I don't know where proof of that lies, sadly, since I took it through Oakland Unified. But I did take it.

So. The class I am taking, the possible LAST class, is through Cal Berkeley Extension, and it's on Mainstreaming Students with Disabilities. I think it is fantastic. SO much better than the version I attempted last Fall, which was online and dreadful. I really, really like this instructor, who is a counselor specializing in adolescents and adults with ADHD as well as a graduate professor of education. She's awesome. And herewith, annotated reviews of several YAF books that focus on or include as major characters young people with disabilities. And possibly one film -- we'll see.

----- ----- ----- -----

As a middle school teacher of Language Arts, I try to have a wide knowledge of contemporary and more classic (or just less current) young adult fiction. I also try to maintain a large library with what I consider are the best examples of these. That doesn't mean I exclude R. L. Stine and K. A. Applegate, both factories churning out series titles -- horror and science-fiction, respectively -- which are very popular and very easy to read. I just don't read them myself, or care whether they get dogeared or are stolen. I admit that I cater to my own tastes, too -- I have a vast collection of historical fiction written for children and teenagers, some excellent, some merely covering a place and time I consider useful. I also choose books that offer students (potential) opportunities to identify with characters like themselves. Working in West Oakland, I made it a priority to find YAF that centered around African-American characters, and was written by African-American authors, or at the very least extremely good non-Black authors -- some of the historical fiction had white authors who managed not to be terrible in that regard. In the district I work in now, I look for novels in Spanish, in translation, but also for books which reflect the Latino/a immigrant experience, Mexicans in the United States, turmoil in Central America and so on. I also have gathered, over the years, a number of books whose main character or major supporting characters live with a disability of some kind. My reasons for having these books -- well, if I'd thought about it, my reasons would have been to -- again -- offer models and opportunities for identification for my students, and to offer vicarious opportunities for students without disabilities to "step into someone else's shoes", or take perspective. In fact, however, I didn't think about it, exactly. The following titles are books which meet those goals, but which I collected more because they are very good fiction -- well-written, interesting, mind-stretching, emotion-evoking fiction. I offer this annotated list as a resource for teachers of students aged 11 through 15 or so.


Okay, this first one isn't a book. But it's a classic movie which is still amazingly effective even with jaded students who play fast action video games in color every afternoon. I refer to the movie The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke playing Annie Sullivan and the famous Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker not only gives what seems to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the world a deaf-blind child could create for herself in the absence of any more complex means of communication than miming, but makes it very, very clear to any watcher that the facts of a disability mean nothing whatsoever about the quality of the mind in that body. Helen Keller was brilliant, stubborn, brave, and resourceful, and that is clear in the movie as well as in any biographical material about the socialist speaker.


This is a more recent focus of attention in schools -- was that a pun? Not sure. Anyway, when I was in school, there was no such diagnosis, and a student with the range of symptoms which might produce that description now would probably have been called "a handful." But we have named it, now, and now students with this label are well aware of it. Some of them, in my experience, are able to use their self-knowledge to get accommodations for themselves. Some of them, not yet. One series of books which I think is wonderful both in giving students a sympathetic mirror to look into, and to offer deep recognition, is about a boy named Joey Pigza, a fifth grader (I think -- maybe he starts out as a fourth grader?) and is by Jack Gantos. In my longer treatment of YAF, these books would also go under a category I want to write about -- novels with working class culture and roots. There are far fewer of these than I would like to see -- most novels for teens are firmly rooted in the middle or upper-middle class, and if their class identification shifts for one or two titles, the attempt is often awkward and unconvincing. An example in this regard is an author I like very much, but who can't really write anything that isn't middle to upper-middle class, or anything that isn't white. That would be Andrew Clements, an otherwise great author of school stories.

Anyway. Jack Gantos' protagonist Joey Pigza, is a handful. His mother is divorced from his father (who seems also to be a handful) and in the first novel, Joey lives with his paternal grandmother, who is eccentric to say the least. Throughout the first novel, called Joey Pigza Swallows the Key (2000), Joey is confused and sometimes tormented by his inability to fit in with the norms of classroom behavior. The depiction of what it feels like to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is very powerful, and very specific. Gantos evokes the physical sensations as well as what seems almost like a manic emotional high. He is on medications, but they do not work well. By the end of the novel, he is transferred from a mainstream environment to what seems to be SDC while a more competent and concerned teacher helps him both with meds and with coping techniques. This novel obviously deals with very controversial ideas -- whether and how to mainstream, for instance, and the place and utility of medication -- but it does not state anything monolithically. In the course of the four books, in fact, Joey's education seems to run the gamut from mainstreaming to segregated Special Education to being withdrawn from public education and home-schooled by a Christian acquaintance of Joey's mother. It is as though the author wants to explore several different avenues of how Joey can deal with his life, his education, and his interactions with others.

There are four books in the series, so far, and it may end there. I haven't read the fourth one yet, but the titles are, in order: Joey Pigza Swallows the Key, Joey Pigza Loses Control, What Would Joey Do?, and I am not Joey Pigza. I really wish I had these books on tape.

Amputation/prosthetic limbs

Cynthia Voigt is an amazing author of young adult fiction. She is prolific and she is especially good at complex characterizations which are often ambivalent. None of her characters are flat. In Izzy, Willy Nilly, she tells the story of a young middle class high school student, moderately popular, moderately pretty, moderately good in school, whose life is disrupted when she allows her older date to drive her home drunk from a party. In the crash, the driver walks away, but Izzy loses a leg, or more accurately, her right leg below the knee joint. The novel is a journey for Izzy through dealing with this change. She denies it, revolts against it, is deeply depressed for much of the story, and slowly comes to terms with it. Her life changes as a result of losing a leg, but in some ways, Voigt seems to argue that she comes away a better person for having to struggle. She is dropped by her own popular clique and slowly becomes friends with a much smarter, more awkward and honest misfit. She sees herself and her old friends through a more thoughtful, if painful, prism. I don't think that the book is didactic or preachy -- Voigt never is -- but she handles emotions and nuance very, very well.

Learning Disabilities

Cynthia Voigt is also the only author of YAF I can think of right this minute who has a major character who would have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan, for students who qualify for Resource Specialist Programs), at any school I've taught in. In her series on the fictional Tillerman family, the younger daughter, Maybeth, is "slow" -- she does not have mental retardation, but is frequently identified as "retarded" by children and teachers alike. She has been held back in school once already, and in the first book is about to be held back again, so that she would be in the second grade for a third time, this time with her younger brother. Throughout the series, Voigt develops Maybeth's abilities and explores her processing issues. She has trouble both with language processing when using the whole language teaching methodology and the memorization of lists of sight words, and with mathematic concepts like fractions. Yet she can learn to read using phonics, and she has perfect pitch and the ability to read music and recall songs and melodies very quickly and accurately. The second novel in the series, Dicey's Song, even has her older brother James, a gifted student, research teaching methods that might help Maybeth once she is allowed to proceed into third grade instead of being retained. The book is useful not only for is portrait of Maybeth as a multidimensional character, with many graces and talents, but for its exploration of how families can look for resources to help members with processing issues, and how they can understand difference.

Mental Illness

The book I selected for this category was surprising to me, because its author is more well-known for her own vast factory-like production of The Babysitters Club series novels. Ann M. Martin has been trying her hand, lately, at more complicated, 1960s-based, class-located first person novels, and two of these are very good indeed. These novels are Here Today, and A Corner of the Universe. It is the latter which tackles the subject of mental illness in the secondary major character. Hattie, a girl living in a small town in 1960, meets her uncle Adam, of whose existence she had been utterly ignorant, when his specialized private boarding school closes down. It is not exactly clear what her uncle's diagnosis is -- some level of autism, it seems, signaled by an encyclopedic knowledge of the I Love Lucy show, and the use of lines from that show to mediate most social situations. But Hattie's relationship to her newfound uncle -- by far the closest forged by anyone in her family -- makes Adam a real person, whose differences stop being frightening and begin to be understandable. The novel is aimed at 9 to 14 year olds, but I agree with the Amazon.com reviewer who felt that age bracket skewed too young: the ending of this novel is tragic, and its darkness would be very hard for most children under 12 or 13.

Cerebral Palsy

Finally (I could probably keep going for quite a while, but I am going to stop, I think) there is the novel Libby on Wednesdays by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The main character of the book has no disability except a social awkwardness caused by being homeschooled by an unworldly poet father. But when she is forced to go to middle school for socialization purposes, the Gifted And Talented Education program places her in an after school writing club which meets on Wednesdays. There, she meets an ungainly assortment of other students whose writing is fascinating and creatively compelling, one way or another. She does not expect to like any of them, but slowly comes to respect and enjoy them all. The first student she gets to know is a boy named Alex, who is called a spaz by other students because he has cerebral palsy and cannot control his limbs well, at all. He writes his stories on computer and composes parodies of almost any genre, lickety split. The depiction of a boy with cerebral palsy, again, underscores the fact that mental ability is not the limiting factor -- if there is a limiting factor -- in a disability.
maeve66: (Hello Mao!)
These are read every morning by "leadership students", e.g. Student Council members. This morning's history nugget was that X number of years ago (I don't recall what they said, because I wasn't listening until the following gem) "15,000 refugees left the kum-YOON-ist country of Cambodia, SUB-squinet to...." blah blah blah I stopped listening to marvel at those pronunciations, especially of communist. Oh, ancient history. Oh, students born in 1996, 1995, or 1994.



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