Monday, December 28, 2015

Dispatch #45: A Book's Life

by Lupe Fernandez

I read Violet & Claire by Francesca Lia Block, a YA novel about two girls who's friendship is threatened by the lifestyles they lead in the hard world of Los Angeles' show business. Violet is obsessed with writing a screenplay based on her life and creating a movie. Claire is a vulnerable loner who believes she's a faerie. Love. Betrayal. Loyalty.

I found this book at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley. The book was on a shelf for used books. The pages were marked up in green and red pen. Comments. Underlines. Circles. What was the previous owner doing with Lia Block's book? Class assignment. Writing exercise. Personal salvation.

I imagined a life for this book prior to falling into my hands.

The cover is worn, pages creased, spine split. The reader perches on a school planter, underlining "I asked if she was new to our lovely local prison" and scribbling the note "school prison" in green pen. She realizes, yes that's what this place feels like. The reader is in prison and needs to adapt to wait out her sentence, her crime not being in the cool crowd.

Another reader slumps in a library, groaning at the paper due about this damn book. He underlines " fallen stars trying to get back home" and writes "simile" in the margin. Who cares, he wonders. Two crazy girls. He'd never date them. Still, this Claire thought Violet was sleeping with this guy she likes and everything went to the shit. He sits up straight and determines to stop his own affair before his girlfriend finds out.

The last reader hugs the book like a talisman, a charm to ward off fetid hatred. Her best friend has been writing love letters to her boyfriend, hiding in the library. Says he a book report due. She strides across the quad to confront her friend curled up on a planter box, writing in a book. The same book she has. Violet & Claire.

The year ends. The book is tossed in a donation bin. Humidity curls the corners. The ink bleeds. It's stacked with other discards, weight crushing. Oily fingerprints mar the cover. It passes from storage to storage until the big day of the Bay Area Book Festival. Violet & Claire is shelved, breathing Berkeley air and waits.

Waits to be chosen.

Do you know where your book has been?

Monday, December 21, 2015

New Teacher Blues Revisited

My room the day before I started teaching.
Really bare. And below, my room today.

by Hilde Garcia

Three years ago, I became a full time teacher and I wrote this post. What's amazing is that three years later, it still applies.

Now, this amazing room, pictured here will be reinvented in a new building this January.  And I will come up with new class procedures I am sure because it is a new space.  Things are bound to be different.
And here? My new sunny room, done quite done yet, but on its way!
What will it look like?

But I will still decorate it the way I want. I will still read aloud to my students and I will still wonder why the education budget in our country is always the first thing that is cut.

During this holiday season, think of one way you can support your local school, your neighborhood teacher, the kid next door.  You don't have to have a kid in school to make a difference. You can volunteer at a school, vote to help legislation, donate supplies or funds, or simply believe in your local school.

Some samples of stained glass art my
students did for this holiday art this year.

From all of us here at Pen and Ink, we wish you the merriest of holiday seasons and a safe and happy new year. We writers are a special group. We have so much power and can change the world one story at a time.

Thank you for your contributions to children's literature.

Reposted from 2012.

Five Best Things about Teaching
by Hilde Garcia

5I have my own classroom. 
I was able to decorate it the way I envisioned amazing learning should look like. I love walking into it and smelling the wood floors, seeing the sunlight filter in through the 1920’s gigantic glass windows. I love the room best when it’s quiet, before my students arrive, and the lights are off. It reminds me of school days long ago.

4Reading aloud to my students.
My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Sybil Dobbs, would keep the lights off after lunch, have us sit and rest our heads, and then read to us. That was the year I went down the river with Tom and Huck, found a garden with Mary, and got into trouble as red heads often do, especially when they are orphans. Those timeless classics, Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables have stayed with me throughout the years. So I too, now, turn off the lights and read a loud to my children. Old classics and new ones as well.

I love planning my lessons in my old fashioned planner. I love making up cool projects and assignments to inspire the kids. I love when I get notes from them on how much they love my class and how much we laugh. They think what I do is fun and they love learning. What could be better praise?

2My colleagues.
They are truly amazing, each and every one. I am very fortunate to teach in a dual immersion language program and we have five languages at one school site- English, Spanish, French, German and Italian. On any given day, you can begin a conversation in one language and end in another. Our school-wide festivals are unique, bringing in every type of culture you can imagine. The warmth that permeates the hallway makes it a place I would go to even if I wasn’t on staff.

1Knowing that I will make a mark on another human on the planet.
That has to be the best thing about teaching. It’s why I love to write, because I can touch someone like so many have touched me. My Kindergarten teacher left a indelible mark on me when she held up the color red and said the word red and the told me to color the apple red. I didn’t know English. I was scared. She was caring. The sunlight filtered into the room, through the big old-fashioned windows, and enveloped the room with a glow that made reading something special. She transformed my world and I have taken her gift with me. Now it’s my turn.

Five Worse Things about Teaching

Having a shortened school day and school year, but being expected to teach twice the amount of material in that time.

It’s lacking in some communities for education. It used to be that school was what you did as a child. Now, there are more options and it feels at times like teachers are fighting a losing battle against video games, television, marketing schemes, and parents who feel vacation has to happen during the school day. (I knew a parent that actually took the kids to Disneyland during the week because she felt like it- never mind that it was the week of our state testing.)

3The technology gap.
It’s sad. Some schools have access to it and some don’t. Economics are not equal when it comes to schools, yet our government boasts that we give every child the opportunity for an education. But what type? If we want all our nation’s children to thrive and be ready for a 21st century world, then we have to educate them with 21st Century technology. A chalk and chalkboard will not do.

2The lack of thematic integration.
We want the kids to connect with the world and work cooperatively with their peers, but we tell them to sit down, be quiet, look at page 50 and copy the questions. We are rigid with our curriculum, following one book, one style. With so many children and so many learning styles, we have to embrace more diversity in our teaching. Many schools are doing this now and it give s me hope that we will begin to see teaching that reflects the global interactions of our planet.

And the number one worse thing about being a teacher?

1The budget.
Please stop cutting it. You can’t teach 40 kids in a class and expect that everyone is going to get one on one time. You can’t use most of your salary to buy supplies for your students, but we do. There are so many parents in public schools these days that donate constantly to their child’s class, establish booster clubs and foundations in order to raise money to provide art, music, and even paper. We have to find a way to cure the budget blues as a nation because our kids are worth it. They are us a few years ago. And there is no excuse for not having the money. We have to think creatively, like we are asking our kids to do. We should involve business, communities, volunteers. It does take a village. But it’s so well worth it. How do you stop unemployment? Begin educating students for the changes in the world so they can adapt and be employable in the future.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Pictures Books. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Solstice

By Susan J. Berger
I interviewed USA today best selling author RaeAnne Thayne on my other blog and asked her about her Christmas Traditions.
My favorite answer?
We have many. When my kids were young, I would wrap up twenty-four of our favorite children's Christmas books and they would get to unwrap a different one each night of December leading up to Christmas Eve, then we would read it together. It was always so fun trying to guess which one they would open. 
Image result for collage hilday childrens picture books
I LOVE this tradition. I'm starting a collection for my grandchildren.
Some are obvious. Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. But there are so many more. And since I consider December Light, Miracles, Joy, Peace and All the Good Stuff Season, I want to include other holiday books.
Should you be moved to collect, here a few suggestions.  Please add to my list and leave a favorite in your comments.  And however you celebrate love, hope, joy and miracles, I wish you all of the above.

The first two we had at Reading to Kids on Saturday and I adored them.

Turkey Claus

Turkey needs Santa’s help so he won’t be eaten for Christmas dinner.
Turkey is in trouble. Again. He made it through Thanksgiving without becoming a turkey dinner, but now it’s almost Christmas, and guess what’s on the menu? Turkey decides the only thing to do is to ask Santa for help. He sets off for the North Pole, but getting in to see Santa at Christmastime isn’t as easy as Turkey expected. It’s going to take all his ideas—and his clever disguises—to find a way into Santa’s house. After many hilarious attempts, Turkey comes up with the perfect disguise, and Santa has the perfect solution! In this holiday treat, a companion to Turkey Trouble, Wendi Silvano’s story is once again matched with the watercolor artwork of Lee Harper.


“Olive the Other Reindeer” by Vivian WalshPrice: $13.59 at 
Sweet little doggie Olive is confused — she thinks she’s one of Santa’s reindeer and so decides to help him with Christmas. This book is so bright and sweet and brilliantly illustrated, and though I also love the DVD version, the book is nothing like it, with so scariness or negativity. So cute!


“How Santa Got His Job” by Stephen KrenskyPrice: $6.99 at 
Haven’t you ever wondered how Santa got the many skills required to do his job? This book explains it all, going over Santa’s past jobs (working in a zoo, at the post office, and at an all-night diner) that got him where he is today. It’s cute, and geared towards kids younger than 5.


“Auntie Claus” by Elise PrimaveraPrice: $10.88 at 
Spoiled little Sophie has an Auntie who disappears every winter, and she always wonders where she goes, so one year, she stows away in Auntie’s luggage to find out. Gradually, little Sophie figures out her Auntie’s secrets and learns that, as Auntie puts it, "It is far better to give than to receive!"

Eight-year old Melina wants to become a good violinist. When she loses confidence, her Rumanian teacher Andrea decides it's time for a magic dose of self esteem. A mysterious old woman in rags gives Melina some curious advice; a violinist Russian hamster, who happens to live under the old woman's hat, offers her a virtuoso performance; a shooting star fills her with hope on Christmas Eve. Is Melina actually playing better, or has her violin become magic? Who is the old woman in the town square, and why does she wear the same emerald ring as her teacher Andrea?
Price 10.36 at Amazon


“Little Miss Spider: a Christmas Wish” by David KirkPrice: $10.36 at 
Any little one who loves Miss Spider will love seeing her as a young spider, and will love reading this Christmas-spirit poem. Lonely Little Miss Spider wants a friend to play with, and when she finds a friend in the snowy woods on Christmas Eve, she’s delighted. But where will her new friend go? Where does he live?


“Olivia Helps with Christmas” by Ian FalconerPrice: $12.91 at 
Olivia is a very precocious, very smart five-year-old piglet, and she’s determined to make this Christmas beautiful. She helps decorate the table, prevents her father from building a fire in the fireplace (to save Santa), and bursts into 
#song when appropriate. I love Olivia, and I love this book!
“Junie B., First Grader: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” by Barbara ParkPrice: $4.99 at 
Junie B. is a first grader now, not a kindergarten 
#baby, and she’s excited to be celebrating Christmas as a big kid. This book is just as funny and sweet as the other Junie B. chapter books, only with a holiday theme.