Monthly Archives: December 2017

Laura’s Bookshelf: Finding Perfect

Hungry for more poetry? Diane Mayr at Random Noodling is the Poetry Friday host this week. Visit her blog for links to more poetry posts.

Happy Poetry Friday!

I recently added a line to my email signature. Along with my title (poet in the schools) and the titles of my children’s novels (The Last Fifth Grade, Takedown), you will now see “Currently reading: —” listed under my name.

Publicly sharing what I’m reading is a practice I learned from educator friends, a way of showing the children we teach that adults — like kids — read for school and for pleasure.

This week I finished a book I’ve been meaning to read for months, Elly Swartz’s  middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT. It’s the story of middle schooler and slam poet Molly, who is experiencing a lot of turbulence in her life. Her parents are back together after a brief separation, but her mother has taken a year-long job in Canada. Molly, her father, and her siblings are struggling with this transition. Each handles missing Mom in a different way.

On the surface, Molly is the perfect kid: a good friend, great student, and talented poet. But her perfectionism is a coping mechanism, hiding her anxiety. As the stress caused by her mother’s absence deepens, Molly’s obsessive compulsive tics begin to impact her friendships, family, and sense of self.

FINDING PERFECT is a favorite of upper elementary and middle school educators and their students. The first person voice allows readers to get to know Molly when she’s feeling mainly like herself. We travel through the story with her, experiencing the way OCD and anxiety gradually weigh her down. This is a great book to prompt a conversation about empathy.

Here is the Goodreads blurb for FINDING PERFECT :

To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control. 

FINDING PERFECT is a great read for upper elementary through early high school.

Who will like it?

  • Kids who are interested in psychology and how people’s emotions work.
  • Kids who are experiencing a difficult separation.
  • Readers who enjoy friendship and family stories.

What will readers learn about?

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder. Swartz conducted extensive research for this novel. Resources are listed in the back.
  • The importance of reaching out to peers and adults during times of stress and anxiety. Some changes are too big to handle by yourself!
  • Empathy. Molly is a relatable character who explains why some people have nervous tics and compulsions.

The poem I’m pairing with FINDING PERFECT is “Perfection” by Naomi Katz. Lines two through four describe how Molly feels as she measures, with a ruler, the space between the glass animals collected on her shelf. As a whole, the poem reminds me of how Molly pressures herself to create the perfect slam poem for a school competition.

Perfection
Naomi Katz

Always that passion in the human breast,
That restless passion for The Perfect Thing,
With its sifting, sorting, rule and measure-string,
And a terrible eye for the error manifest.
Yet, well for the sometime jewel emerged from the quest!
And well for the seldom ore with the mellow ring!
And well for the hunter whose diligent hands can bring
One easeful object to the great Unrest.

Slow is the process, infinitely slow
Up the tedious road with Perfection for its goal;

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

Swartz has another middle grade novel coming out in January. You can read more about SMART COOKIE here.

(Elly and I have something important in common: Both of us are Beagle moms! And both of us worked our beloved Beagles into our second books.)

I hope you’re snuggling up with a book and some holiday cookies this weekend.

Laura

Currently reading: EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid

 

Poetry Friday: All Things Must Pass

Steps and Staircases is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Join us HERE for all of this week’s kidlit poetry posts.

Dear friends, when I’m feeling down I often turn to an old friend to help me settle my worries: George Harrison, fellow Pisces and my very favorite member of the Beatles.

My favorite albums are Let It Roll, Songs of George Harrison and Concert for George.

For Poetry Friday, I’m sharing one of George Harrison’s solo songs. The news out of Washington, DC and California has been so stressful. I’ve been sitting with the message of these lyrics today.

“All Things Must Pass”
George Harrison

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up
And has left you with no warning
But it’s not always going
To be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this my love is up
And must be leaving
But it’s not always going
To be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So I must be on my way
And face another day

Read the rest here.

If you’ve never seen Martin Scorcese’s documentary about George Harrison’s life, Living in the Material World, it is phenomenal. Here is George’s demo for the song, from Scorcese’s film.

One more George recommendation! My favorite biography of George Harrison is HERE COMES THE SUN: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison. Find it on Amazon.

Who is your favorite Beatle? And whose music is like a good friend holding your hand when you’re feeling down?

Craft Talk: Multiple Point of View Novels

A question came up in one of my kidlit groups the other day: Can young readers handle books with more than one narrator?

No surprise, there was a debate among the members. Why make books harder for kids to read by writing in more than one voice? Isn’t that confusing?

While I don’t think multiple POV books are everyone’s cup of tea, kids and teens are more resilient readers than we give them credit for. They are still forming opinions about what they like and don’t like in a book, which makes them less resistant to novels that play with form, structure, and voice than an adult reader might be.

One of my favorite authors of multi-voiced books is children’s and YA author Mary Amato. Her middle grade novel PLEASE WRITE IN THIS BOOK is a big favorite at our house. Last fall (2016), Mary and I led an intensive workshop on voice at the SCBWI MidAtlantic annual conference. Since I had recently survived writing a book in the voices of 18 fictional fifth graders, I was curious about how other multiple POV authors do it. What’s the process for writing a book when the reader shifts from one character’s viewpoint to another?

To find out, I conducted a survey of authors whose books have two or more speakers. Thanks to Jeff Zentner (THE SERPENT KING), Mary Amato (OUR TEACHER IS A VAMPIRE AND OTHER (NOT) TRUE STORIES), Ava Jae (BEYOND THE RED), Caroline Starr Rose (BLUE BIRDS), Jeff Giles (THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING), and Dee Romito (THE BFF BUCKET LIST) for answering my questions and giving me permission to share the survey below.

While I was working on THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, I couldn’t have kept track of the 18 characters, when they spoke, how often they appeared in each section of the book, without my color coded spreadsheet.

How — and why — do other authors tackle writing a book in multiple points of view? Click through this slide show to find out. (Be sure to click the picture to expand the images.)

 

What do I love about reading stories told from more than one point of view?  A story with more than one narrator asks the reader to stitch together different takes on the book’s events — much like piecing Caroline’s quilt — in order to build meaning.  This active style of reading builds empathy because it helps readers understand something profound: Even though we share experiences, everyone — in fiction and in life — uses their individual experiences as a lens through which they view the world.

Poetry Friday: December Notes

It’s the first day of December, Poetry Friday friends. This week’s host is Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and head over to her blog, where you’ll find some poetry to warm you up.

I went searching for a December poem and came upon this beauty by Nancy McCleery. Last winter, we installed a small Lucite bird feeder on our kitchen window. Visitors include a cardinal family, chickadees, titmice, wrens, and (most fascinating to our dog, Sam) a squirrel. The images in this poem are striking, yet capture the quietness we can experience during a cold winter.

December Notes

By Nancy McCleery

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up an away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.

Read the rest at My Minnesota Notes.