Spaceships - Slice of Life

Thank you so much to the SOL community whose kind words encourage me to continue to work on my writing. I especially appreciate Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly event. 

Since January, my mother languished in the hospital. Writing kept me sort of grounded. Words clamoured their way out of me whenever and wherever they wanted. I've continued to work on a few of these pieces. This poem was written after Mom was transferred to the palliative care ward. A tender intimacy develops there between staff and patients and families. 


Here on this space station
We are not the astronauts
This is not the arrival gate

We wander the halls of the departure area
Find refuge in small rooms,
Make coffee,
Smile at one another,
Make eye contact,
Exchange names,
Ask about each other's travelers.

Occasionally, we celebrate.
A departure is delayed.

We know (without words)
Their ships launch them into unknown galaxies.
Our only certainty,
They won't be coming back.

#IMWAYR April 25, 2016

Hurrah! #IMWAYR time again. This weekly event is sponsored by the inimitable Jen at Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers. Check out their sites for links to other bloggers writing about kidlit. It's a great way to get ideas for what to read next. (Although be warned, it can be a tad expensive)

Poem in your pocket day at Dickens was a smashing success! 
The pockets full of poems I put out on Wednesday were emptied before the end of day. (I forgot to take pictures of them full) In a mad frenzy I printed off more and came in early Thursday morning to cut them out, fold them and refill the pockets. Through it all, children, (mostly boys) came to show me the poems they were carrying with them. Some had poems they had copied themselves. Others were poems they had pulled from the posted pockets. A few carried poems they had written themselves. Everyone was excited even if they couldn't read them! One seven-year-old came and recited from memory, The Creature in the Classroom by Jack Prelutsky. Actions accompanied it. The library was crowded during open book exchange with children searching through poetry collections hoping to find a just right poem. One of our grade seven girls sat in the library and read Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones. It was then passed around by a group of girls and eventually made it's way to me. 

Aside from that, I have been reading and listening to many kinds of books this week.


4 stars
Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer

This is a delightful book about a boy discovering that poetry abides in all aspects of ordinary life. These beautifully coloured illustrations are filled with details to get lost in.

Friday afternoon, in preparation for retirement at the end of June, I started cleaning out my work room. I'm not sure why I call it that, as there is too much junk in it to do anything! I have been keeping a collection of older picture books (and some information titles) that I wasn't ready to weed completely. I went through them and put a few aside to keep and put the rest of them in the hall to give away. This meant I had to read or at least peruse them. Here are some of the ones I read and will keep.


4 stars
When Jackie and Hank Met by Cathy Goldberg Fishman

The only sport worth watching is Baseball, but not on TV. You have to be there in the stands. Baseball fans are a culture unto themselves. It's a relaxed party atmosphere where strangers chat with other strangers. There is barbeque and beer. I bring along my knitting and a book, because the game leaves spaces for other activities. I also love to read about baseball. The important thing about the best baseball narratives is that they regularly deal with bigger philosophical issues.This book shows us how two very talented players, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, grew up, dealt with prejudice, and became friends. 
PS If you haven't read The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles, you better go and do it ASAP! 
4 stars

Traveling Butterflies by Susuma Shingu

This is an excellent introductory book on the migration of monarch butterflies. I read it twice to really appreciate how much information is in the simple text. The illustrations that accompany it are flat out gorgeous, and enhance a reader's understanding of this remarkable creature's journey.


3 stars
Raymie Nightingale by Kate Dicamillo

I'm a little bit heartbroken. I wanted to love this book, but it just didn't quite work for me. Yes, there is some beautiful writing, and I even had moments where my eyes filled with tears. The problem is that I just couldn't really connect to the characters, so I didn't care enough about them. It felt like the novel skimmed the surface of what might otherwise have been a powerful read. 

4 stars

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein narrated by Jesse Bernstein

This one started out slow for me, but then, just like in Grabenstein's last book, before I knew it, there I was, right inside the story. Everything I loved about the last book was here: great characters, the connection to children's literature, the gaming, the puzzles and riddles, the sense of creation and wonder! I especially appreciated the connections to banned (and missing) books.

5 stars
Salt to the Sea by Rutya Sepetys narrated by Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Michael Crouch

I'm still kind of gobsmacked by how stunning this book is. It's the story of a group of refugees from different backgrounds trying to escape the advancing Russian troops at the end of the second world war. This exquisitely written book reveals to us the humanity of strangers against a backdrop of evil, and what horror, terror, and brutality that entails. These different narrators brought the characters to life for me as I listened to this book. 


I started Famous Last Words by Katie Alender, but it is too creepy and scary for me. (I'll try reading it with my eyes since it's easier to skip over the really nasty bits.) I abandoned it and started listening to The Book of Kings by Cynthia Voigt. I'm in the middle of Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy. Books in verse seem like you can read them quickly, but I find I need to take a bit of time and savour them. 


I still haven't started those coding books. Maybe I should just accept defeat and return them to the library. Otherwise, I've got a mess of audiobooks that should be available soon from the public library and I just picked up Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar, so maybe that will be next. I've also got Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke and The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner ready to read from Netgalley. (I'm actually amazed they let me read anything at all after the long list of books I didn't get to before they were archived)

Slice of Life: HOPE

I started participating last week in Slice of Life, so this is my second public post. Two Writing Teachers are the generous hosts for this event. 


Some days I weep and scream [soundless] in the shower.

Today I brood over how I might push through the pervasive disorientation of my mother's brain.

I am a miner, digging for meaningful conversations.
I am a prospector, scavenging through the rubble left from a traumatic brain injury and a body ravaged with cancer.
I search for precious gems: memories to last the rest of my lifetime.

What tools admit me into the heart of meaningful dialogue?
I shape words into questions and conversation gambits and put them on a list.
  • What do you regret?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
  • What are you most proud of having accomplished?
  • Is there anything you didn't do that you wish you had had done?
  • Who was the most influential person in your life?

I ignore the warning niggle.

I refuse to contemplate that today might be another day when she is beyond any kind of conversation, no matter how scrambled.
A day where bloodied fingers scrabble in vain to remove rocks and debris,
and no hope of making a path for her to find her way out.

#IMWAYR April 18, 2016

Here we are. #IMWAYR time again. Thanks to Jen at Mentor Text and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting this weekly event where readers of kidlit get together to share what we have been reading in the previous week.

I have had a truly delightful reading week. It's been all over the place from poetry, to picture books, to novels, to information books and back to poetry again. It has just been perfect. 

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh & Raúl Colón (Illustrations)

5 stars
This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how Marie Tharp, a female scientist, struggled to be accepted in a man's world. It shows how she was able to create a map of the Atlantic ocean floor that revealed its landforms, and provided evidence of the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift. In one section Robert Burleigh articulates the way scientists work:
"As I continued working, others wandered in and out of my room, arguing about continental drift. Was it true? Yes, no, yes, no. (Scientists are like that. They question everything. Nothing is for sure -- until it's really for sure)"
I appreciated the section at the end of the work that includes additional biographical information as well as a glossary. 
I loved quote at the end of the endnotes. "Marie didn't just make maps. She understood how the earth works."

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson & Sean Qualls (Illustrations)

5 stars
To say the least, this book is inspirational. It's the story of a young man who overcame a handicap and ended up making changes in his world. Emmanuel was born with only "one leg that could kick." His Mama Comfort supported him and made sure that he was able to do whatever he wanted with his good leg. It wasn't easy, but Emmanual made his way to school, came up with a plan to earn the respect and friendship of his peers. He even learned to ride a bike. Eventually it was this skill that helped him make a difference in his world.
Sean Qualls' expressive illustrations add depth and emotion to this true story.

4 stars

I started out writing a few words about this book, and it became a blog post on it's own. I enjoyed listening to it as much for the information about Steinem's life as for the many connections to my own life that I made while reading it. 


Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

4 stars
This book is a beautiful as Carrie Gelson said it is. I loved this look at Russia on the cusp of revolution. Rundell's words capture the essence of winter and put readers there in that place with Feo, Ilya and the wolves as they flee from the psychopathic General Rakov.  One of my favourite characters is Alexie, the young man who won't accept that he is powerless. As he enlists Feo to help him foment a revolution among the villagers, this just be might my favourite quote from the book:
"People say we can't do anything about the way the world is; they say it's set in stone. I say it looks like stone, but it's mostly paint and cardboard." 


3 stars
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! by Elise Parsley

This is a fun book that warns readers about the pitfalls of bringing an Alligator for show and tell. Fans of Dory Fantasmagory will enjoy reading about Magnolia's adventures and how she learned her lesson. 
It would be interesting to pair this book up with Linda Bailey's If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur.

3 stars
Time to Say "Please"! by Mo Willems

I wanted to love this book. It's Mo Willems for Pete's sake! I liked it, but it just wasn't up to what I expect expect from him. However, there are some fun aspects to this book and I can see that this will be useful for those teaching children manners.


In preparation for A Poem in Your Pocket Day, coming up this Thursday, I went through poetry collections in search of poetry to print out and put in paper 'pockets' around the school. I'm looking forward to sparking this event at our whole school morning assembly this coming week. While I did peruse books I've read before, I also made time to read some I hadn't read before. There might have been more, but I didn't record them....

5 stars
If I Had a Million Onions by Sheree Fitch

I remember meeting Sheree Fitch at an author event a few years ago. Her repetitious  poetry is full of joy and fun. The illustrations emphasize the playfulness of them. This is a book that students check out on their own! 

4 stars

See Saw Saskatchewan by Robert Heidbreder & Scot Ritchie (Illustrator)

Bob Heidbreder, a former Vancouver kindergarten teachers, is one of the kindest and most creative people I know. I love to read nearly everything he writes out loud to children because they are just so much fun. However, since I didn't want to include such a long poem in the pocket, I went to this book which includes many delightful poems about different places in Canada. 

4 stars
Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown

I enjoyed many of these poems, but context is everything. I read it following reading poetry by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. Brown's poems just didn't connect with me in the same we these other masters did. That said, I did include one or two into my pocket collection. 

I'm still reading What Have You Lost a poetry collection collated by Naomi Shihab Nye. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo was delivered to our library on Thursday. I have just started it! I'm listening to Mr Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein.

I still have all those books on coding for kids that I should get to...
You know those people who get stuff accomplished, only it's not what they have on their list? I'm one of those. 

My Life On the Road by Gloria Steinem

I listened to this and enjoyed Debra Winger's narration. Gloria Steinem is one year younger than my mother. So part of what was interesting in this book was thinking about their two disparate lives. The other part was acknowledging how my life has been informed by the words of Steinem and others like her. 

My mother was a strong women who never really understood that feminism was about having choice. Life threw many hardships at her, and she just stepped up to the plate and dealt with them. She ended up with a career in nursing, but it wasn't really her first choice. My father was a stay at home dad because of an accident that left him using a wheelchair for the rest of his life. It wasn't his first choice either. Being responsible for five small children removes a lot of choice from your life, but whether or not they realized it, my parents made important choices that resonated deeply in their children. Steinem, being unburdened with children, was able to make choices more freely, and when the choices she wanted to make were limited by her gender, she did something to change that. For her work in this area, I am eternally grateful. 

I discovered feminism in the mid 1960's at the age of sixteen when I was forced to stay home from school after contracting hepatitis A at a Catholic youth conference. (such delightful irony in this) My father and I listened to CBC radio as Peter Gzowski interviewed Steinem as well as many other feminists. Then we would have conversations about equal pay for work of equal value, and what it meant to have choice. I returned to my small town high school transformed. Later on, during my first year at university, I became part of an unofficial consciousness raising group (what Steinem calls talking circles) with a diverse group of women from the east Vancouver neighbourhood I moved to. Thirty some odd years later, I still get together with this group of women at least once a year. 

It was through this group I came to understood that feminism was about telling our stories, listening and believing them, and then doing something so that the next generation of women will be telling different ones. This is a truth that is reinforced in Steinem's book. I only wish we could have accomplished more change so that younger women wouldn't be still telling the same stories of violence against them. 

Mostly I enjoyed this book, although there were sections that left me uncomfortable. This is especially true when Steinem speaks about Native American culture. There are places where it seems to be overly romanticized. However, I liked listening to her stories about the different women she has worked with across her life. 

It was interesting to listen to her thoughts on the last American election and making a choice between Obama and Clinton: especially given her recent gaff on why young women support Bernie Saunders over Hilary Clinton in this round. 

This book got me to thinking about who the prominent Canadian feminists were at this time. I can't remember reading Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, but have added it to my want to read list. As I read this book, I've been having conversations with a woman friend. We have decided to go and read the Royal commission on the status of women 1967-1970. We are afraid that not enough has really changed since then.