The Nutmeg nominees continue. . .

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is the story of Ha.  She is 10 years old when her family has to leave Saigon.  They are headed toward America and perhaps a better life.  But, they have left behind all that they know to go to a strange land, strange people, strange food, strange language.  Ha and her brothers have a long year of change, dreaming, grieving, and discovering.  I tell my children this many times, and the many of the books we read have the same message.  You never know what is going on in someone else’s head.  This is true of Ha’s story.  As children, we would witness a new girl at school who looks different and speaks differently.  What do you think she is thinking?  She is not stupid, she just wants to fit in.  Thanhha Lai writes this novel in verse – which was off putting when we first picked it up.  But, it was a wonderful read, and the verse was written so beautifully, it was not difficult to understand all the meanings and/or feelings of the characters.  Both my daughter and I enjoyed this book.

What I think I liked best about this book was the supplemental information at the end of the book – an interview with the author, an activity for readers and their families, discussion questions, and best of all tips from the author about writing poetry.  While I was an English major in college, I never really took to poetry.  This was very helpful to me.  Perhaps I will start writing love poems to my husband! (Ha! – sarcasm)

Happy Reading!

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My daughter found the list of Nutmeg Books nominated for 2014.  The Candymakers by Wendy Mass is one of the nominees (http://blog.thehappyreaders.com/the-candymakers/).  She loved The Candymakers so much that she wants it to win.  She came home one day and told me that she wants to read all the nominees so she can vote for The Candymakers.  And, so, we have begun reading.  Some of the books she would never pick to read,   but, she said she would do it.

First, she decided to get last year’s winner, Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea.  She read it over one weekend.  It is a wonderful story about a 5th grade class and their year with the new teacher Mr. Terupt.  Each child has a story, and as my daughter said, “it’s a little confusing at first remembering who everyone is, but, you get it.”  It is so important to realize that behind every smile or frown, there is a reason people act the way they do.  Mr. Terupt was able to figure most of the kids out, and in the process became their best teacher.  An accident happens, and it brings the children and their stories together.  Two lessons, I would say I learned, or should be addressed – life is precious and don’t judge a book by its cover.

I’m not sure what the other nominees were for last year (perhaps I’ll find the list and we’ll read all of those), but I am happy that Because of Mr. Terupt won.

Happy Reading!

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We are starting with 100 days and see how we do!  I am excited and so are the kids!  I’m currently reading The Wizard of Oz with my daughter.  My son is all about factual books – these days he’s into hawks and eagles.  Imagine how much we will learn!  I’ll keep you posted!

GENERATION B

<nyt_headline version=”1.0″ type=” “>A Father-Daughter Bond, Page by Page

Ryan Collerd for The New York Times

<nyt_byline>

By MICHAEL WINERIP
Published: March 18, 2010
<nyt_text><nyt_correction_top>MILLVILLE, N.J.

WHEN Jim Brozina’s older daughter, Kathy, was in fourth grade, he was reading Beverly Cleary’s “Dear Mr. Henshaw” to her at bedtime, when she announced she’d had enough. “She said, ‘Dad, that’s it, I’ll take over from here,’ ” Mr. Brozina recalled. “I was, ‘Oh no.’ I didn’t want to stop. We really never got back to reading together after that.”

Mr. Brozina, a single father and an elementary school librarian who reads aloud for a living, did not want the same thing to happen with his younger daughter, Kristen. So when she hit fourth grade, he proposed The Streak: to see if they could read together for 100 straight bedtimes without missing once. They were both big fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and on Nov. 11, 1997, started The Streak with “The Tin Woodman of Oz.”

When The Streak reached 100, they celebrated with a pancake breakfast, and Kristen whispered, “I think we should try for 1,000 nights.”

Mr. Brozina was delighted, but what he was thinking was, a thousand nights?! “I thought, we’ll never do it,” he recalled. “And then we got to 1,000, and we said, ‘How can we stop?’ ”

For 3,218 nights (and some mornings, if Mr. Brozina was coming home too late to read), The Streak went on. It progressed from James Marshall’s picture books about George and Martha (two close friends who happen to be hippos) to middle-school classics like “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town” to the 14 Oz books (which they read four times each), toHarry PotterAgatha Christie, Dickens and Shakespeare, continuing on, until Kristen’s first day of college.

In those nine-plus years, they survived many close calls. When Kristen was still in elementary school, her father and older sister went to Washington. “The phone rings at 10:45 at the hotel and it’s Kristen,” Mr. Brozina recalled. “She says, ‘Dad, we forgot The Streak!’ Fortunately, I always travel with several books and we read right then and there.”

As Kristen got older, she was active in community theater groups that would rehearse late, and a few dozen times, Mr. Brozina turned up and read to her between scenes. One night, a rehearsal for “I Remember Mama” was supposed to end at 11:30, but the director, upset with the performance, was yelling at the players. “Our rule was we had to read before midnight and it had to be at least 10 minutes,” Mr. Brozina said. “It was 11:45 and he wasn’t letting up.”

“Dad took me off the stage,” Kristen said. “I was 17.”

“We sat in the auditorium and I read to her,” said Mr. Brozina.

Their shared reading provided a shared language. When Mr. Brozina asks if Kristen’s absolutely sure, she’ll answer, “Certain there’s a jertain in the curtain” (Dr. Seuss). If Mr. Brozina orders a hamburger, Kristen will say, “I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit” (Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night” ). By high school, Kristen had a busy social life. “I’d be out with friends, and say, ‘It’s 11:30, we need to stop back at my house.’ A carload of teenagers would come in. They’d play some game or cards in the living room. I’d go upstairs to Dad’s room and he’d read to me.”

“Then she’d go back out with her friends and I’d go to bed,” Mr. Brozina said.

People who knew Kristen and her dad (shown together in the photo above) knew The Streak, and accommodated it. One night, Mr. Brozina was at a woman friend’s house. “Things were progressing very nicely,” he said. “And she jumps up and says, ‘Did you read to Kristen yet?’ Holy smokes, I took off on two wheels.”

Like all earth-shattering acts, there was more to The Streak than met the eye, although for years it was unspoken. About the time The Streak started, Kristen’s family shrunk from six to two in a year’s time. Her two surviving grandparents died. Her sister, who is seven years older, went off to Yale. And her mother left her father. “It was just the two of us,” Kristen said. “The Streak was stability when everything else was unstable. It was something I knew would always be there.

“People kept leaving me, but with The Streak, I knew that nothing would come before The Streak. In high school, I had friends who never talked to their parents. It never occurred to me not to. If someone takes care of you, you want to be with them.”

Her father felt that, too. “With a family of two, I wanted her to be absolutely sure in her mind that I was here for her,” he said.

But he had other reasons. At 61, he’s part of a generation that held reading as an almost magical ticket to upward mobility. He’s been a school librarian here for 38 years, knows most everyone in this modest blue-collar town, and whenever he bumps into one of his former students, the first thing he asks is, “Are you reading?” followed by his mantra: “If you love to read, you’ll probably go to college, maybe for free. You’ll get a better job, get a higher income, live longer.”

Over the years, he has built a collection of 700 of the best books he and Kristen read together. “I don’t have much money to pass on,” he said. “But these books, she’ll read to hers and they’ll read to theirs. And they’ll read to the generations down the lines. It’s a means for me to touch generations I’ll never see. They’ll all be smart. I can’t imagine these books will never be used. Every single one of them is so good.”

“Of course,” he said, “it depends on Kristen.”

“My Streak can be longer than your Streak,” said Kristen. “I’ll start before fourth grade.”

The Streak ended on Sept. 2, 2006. It was Kristen’s first day of college, and it was time. Her dorm room was so crowded with boxes, he read to her in a stairwell. The Streak ended as it began, with L. Frank Baum, the first chapter of his most famous “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” “It was hard,” Kristen said. “Not only was I moving away, but we were ending this thousands-of-times tradition. There’s nothing I’ve ever done with that consistency, not even brushing my teeth.”

“I knew it had to be the last,” said Mr. Brozina.

“It wouldn’t have worked,” said Kristen.

“It would have been stringing it out artificially,” he said. “Did you see Willie Mays at the end of his career? Sad. It was past time.”

This spring, Kristen graduates from Rowan University, a half-hour’s drive up the road in Glassboro. She has performed as you’d expect for a product of The Streak, an English major with a 3.94 average.

“One B,” her father said.

“An unfortunate situation,” said Kristen.

She also won two national writing contests, was Resident Assistant of the year, an editor of the humor and literary publications and won the annual English department award.

During college, she didn’t give much thought to The Streak until recently, when she had to write an essay for graduate school, and hunting a topic, realized, “The Streak is kind of interesting.”

Who knows why anyone gets in anywhere, but you’d have to believe The Streak would be a winner, and recently Kristen was accepted to the master’s in liberal arts program at theUniversity of Pennsylvania. She doesn’t have the money to go. But certain as that jertain, the young woman has a plan: She’s going to get a job when she graduates, save and reapply in a year or two.

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My daughter and I are always looking for books to read aloud.  I am dreading the day when she doesn’t want me to read to her anymore.  Maybe we’ll be like this father-daughter http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/fashion/21GenB.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.  What an inspiration – and, I bet if I showed this article to my daughter, she would be willing to do it!  I digress.

The latest book that we have finished is A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, drawings by Garth Williams.  I used to read this to my first grade class when I was teaching in NYC – I thought it was appropriate given that we all lived in NYC.  I think what my daughter likes best about all the books we read, and she reads on her own is the relationships between the characters.  Chester, the cricket, arrives in the subway station on Times Square and becomes friendly with Tucker, the mouse, and Tucker’s best friend, Harry Cat (yes, a mouse and a cat are best friends).  Mario, the little boy vows to take care of Chester.  His parents, especially his mother, is not very happy about this.  But, Chester begins to play music that she adores.  Chester soon becomes the talk of the town.  Despite all his his new friends, and his new life and adventures, he knows when it is time to go home.

I guess that is true of most people – and recent graduates, take note.  It is important to go out, make new friends, have lots of adventures.  Trust me, you will know when it’s time to go home.

Happy Reading!

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Out of My MindOut of my Mind by Sharon Draper is simply amazing.  Melody is 5th grader with cerebral palsy, she cant walk, she can’t talk; but she can certainly think and make herself heard.  I couldn’t stop reading!  Early on, she struggles to communicate with others (although she is communicating with the reader).  Some people, like her parents, are aware that she is trying.  But, others, including doctors and special education teachers, simply think that she is a vegetable.  She finally is able to get a computer that can speak for her.  WOW – what an impression she makes!  Smart, funny, someone that just wants to be normal.  This book is not to missed!

My daughter has just started reading it.  After reading Wonder, it was interesting to discuss with her how she felt about appearances and people in general.  It will be interesting to hear her reaction to Out of my Mind.  In our extended family we have two special needs children – neither of whom can walk or talk.  What do you think they would say if they could talk?  When you have people so close to you that are similarly affected, it makes you think that much harder about their situation.

Bravo to Sharon Draper for giving Melody a voice!

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I have always heard that an artist’s work becomes much more popular and valuable after the artist has died.  Is that true of writers as well?  E. L. Konigsburg passed away last month.  I had read, probably, one of her books as a child, From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; my daughter and I read it this year as well (note to self, add to blog).  I had also read The View from Saturday as an adult and again with my daughter (http://blog.thehappyreaders.com/the-view-from-saturday/).  So, when I read her obituary, I realized there were many more books that I had to read.

I picked up The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place at the library.  I started to read the inside cover one night and it said that it was the companion piece to Silent to the Bone. Off to the library I went the next morning.  I read Silent to the Bone first.  I loved the characters in the book, they are smart.  However, the story is a bit grown-up for a 10 year old.  Branwell Zamborska cannot speak, he has been struck dumb after his baby sister, Nikki,  had an accident and is in a coma.  The babysitter tells the EMTs that Branwell shook and dropped the baby.  The baby is in the hospital and Branwell is in a Juvenile Behavioral Center.  The only one who can communicate with Branwell is his best friend, Connor.  Connor, with the help of Margaret, his half sister, find ways to communicate with Branwell so they can figure out exactly what happened to Nikki.  It is a good story, but lots of mature subject matter.

Front CoverI wasn’t sure what to expect from The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, after Silent to the Bone.  I really enjoyed it, and the subject matter was much more appropriate for a 10 year old, and it was not necessary to read Silent to the Bone first.  Margaret (the half sister from Bone) is 12 and is sent to summer camp while her parents go to Peru for an archaelogical dig.  She is having a miserable time at summer camp because the girls are mean to her.  The camp director reluctantly lets her go home with her great uncles Alex and Morris – who have been building ‘the towers’ in their backyard for 40 years.  The towers are made of scrap metal, glass and porcelain.  They are beautiful and all Margaret knows of her uncles backyard.  Then, the yuppies move into the neighborhood and try to get the towers removed.  Margaret must fight to save the towers, and she does fight.  This is a great book, I love how Margaret has enough confidence to stand up for herself and for her uncles.  A great role model.

“Every now and then, a person must do something simply because he wants to, because it seems to him worth doing. And that does not make it worthless or a waste of time.”

There are many more E.L. Konigsburg books to read – stay tuned.

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marshfieldRalph Fletcher was the visiting author at my daughter’s school this year.  She really enjoyed him and his books.  Her teacher read her class Fig Pudding, which my daughter suggested we read aloud with my son.  But, since it was early in the school year and there were no pictures in the book, he quickly said no.  A few months ago, she suggested we read Marshfield Dreams aloud.  We needed a break from Harry Potter, and this was perfect.  It is about Mr. Fletcher growing up in Marshfield, MA, his family – that seemed to be forever growing, his friends.  How easy it was to play outside for hours back when we were kids. (and yes, I did walk in the snow to school, uphill, both ways! – sarcasm!)  Ralph Fletcher’s stories bring you right there with him.  It is as though you are one of the 9 Fletcher children.  My daughter loved hearing theses stories.  And, guess what. when we fininshed, my son asked if I could read it to him.  We are not quite finished with it – but he is enjoying it as well, and there are only a few pictures at the beginning of every chapter.  Perhaps we can get him to listen to Fig Pudding next.  http://www.ralphfletcher.com/

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When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  I got this book suggestion from Hooray for Books (that wonderful bookstore and blog in Alexandria, VA http://www.hooray4books.com/).  It intrigued me.  I try to get my daughter to read books about other children who live in different places.  We live in the country, sort of; definitely different from NYC.  I think its interesting  to read about children going through similar and different situations, even though they may live in very different places.

Sal and Miranda are best friends.  But, all that changes.  Sal stops wanting to hang out with Miranda, she begins getting notes about things that will happen in the future, her mom is preparing to be on TV.  Its a whole new world for Miranda.  The story takes place in the real world, but deep within, you will find that there is a mystery to be solved.  It was wonderful to see Miranda develop new friends, and navigate her way through her somewhat new life, while still trying to hold on to things from the past.  This book has a lot of references to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and even gives away the ending to it.  So, for that reason alone, I will be saving this book until after my daughter reads A Wrinkle in Time.

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I have seen Wonder by R.J. Palacio all over the place this school year.  I had it on hold at our local library, but was in the middle of another book, so I passed.  I was able to get it for the next go-round.  I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner.  If you haven’t read it, I insist that you put your name on the waitlist at your library!

Auggie is born with a facial deformity.  He has his family, and his friends that he has no since he was a baby.  Now, his parents have decided that it is time he starts “real school” in 5th grade.  Who wants to start a new school in 5th grade?  Who wants to start a new school in 5th grade and have facial deformities?  This book, these characters, all have something to say.  You never really know a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes.  I don’t think truer words were ever spoken.  Auggie, his sister, Via, her former best friend, Miranda, her boyfriend, Justin, Auggie’s new friends at school, Summer and Jack.  Each one makes you laugh and cry.  This book is  . . .  (I’m speechless).

I insisted that my daughter read it.  Usually, she fights me, but eventually reads the books I ask her to read.  I wanted her to read it while it was still fresh in my mind.  There are so many questions I want to ask her, so many discussions I want to have.  She’s about a quarter of the way through it, and is loving it.  I’m not sure she’ll cry like I did, but she is enjoying it.  One question I do have for her.  Is it better to be like Auggie – smart, regular 5th grade boy, who just happen to look VERY different.  Or is it better to not be aware of your differences?

“Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always try to be a little kinder than necessary.”

Happy Reading!

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