Oh ye Gods and Godesses of YA Non-fiction and all Classroom Library Aficionados

I teach 9th grade English and I’ve been working on building my classroom library this spring. I have a hefty amount of fictional works, but my non-fiction collection still requires some beefing up. It will get there eventually. I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have as far as non-fiction books that would appeal to 13-15-year-old students.

I’m wondering what tips and tricks you all might have found for keeping a classroom library. What words of wisdom do you have?

Unknown Caller Prompt

That damn phone won’t stop ringing! I thought. Why can’t Isabella just answer the phone? She never answers it, just lets it ring and ring until it goes to voicemail and no one ever leaves a message. FINE! I’ll answer it.

Hello?” Silence. Slightly more annoyed,” Hellooo?” Still nothing. I glanced at the caller ID. “Anonymous,” hmm, that’s odd; since when does caller ID come up “anonymous”? 

“Look, whoever you are, you need to stop calling this number.” The only thing I could think of was that maybe it was one of Isabella’s old boyfriends calling to harass her. “Isabella doesn’t want to talk to you, so just stop calling.”

Just then, there was a crackling noise on the line and deep voice whispered, “The lamb sleeps peacefully among wolves.” What the fuck?

“Who is this?” I demanded. “Who the hell are you and what do you want?” Then I heard the click and the line went dead. Now, what? Who the hell calls repeatedly, refuses to speak and then says something so bizarre? It has to be a prank caller. I’m going to have to remember to ask Isabella about this. 

The next morning I left a note on the table for Izzy.

—————————————————————

Izzy,

Had a strange call come in repeatedly again yesterday. I finally answered because they wouldn’t stop calling. When I picked up no one was there. I was just about to hang up and a male voice said, “The lamb sleeps peacefully among wolves.” Then he hung up. Any idea who would want to prank call us? Whoever it is, can you please get them to stop calling here while I’m trying to sleep? It’s getting a bit old.  

Love ya, Bugsy

———————————————————-

Izzy had called me Bugsy since the day we met and I hoped signing with her nickname for me would soften the tone of the note. I wasn’t mad at her, just tired of the bizarre phone calls at all hours of the day and night. Why can’t I just have a normal girlfriend? Preferably one that doesn’t have a sordid past. One that doesn’t attract all sorts of weirdos. Hmm, what does that say about me?

The Great Wind Down

As my school year begins to wind down, I find myself reflecting on a hard fought year. I could whine about the negatives of my job, but instead I’m making an active effort to focus on the things (in this case, mostly students) that I will miss. I will miss how this group of students has gotten to know me and have come to accept my quirky disposition and fluctuations of temperament. Each year I must initiate a new group of students to my sarcastic and at times macabre sense of humor. I must answer the question, “Why do all our stories have to do with someone dying?”

I will miss how this group of students has gotten to know me and have come to accept my quirky disposition and fluctuations of temperament. Each year I must initiate a new group of students to my sarcastic and at times macabre sense of humor. I will also have to get to know a whole new set of personalities, quirks, and behavioral issues. I must answer the question, “Why do all our stories have to do with someone dying?”

I must answer the ludicrous questions, “Do we have to read in here?” “Why do we have to write an essay?” “Can’t you just read it to me?” And I must answer the question, “Why do all our stories have to do with someone dying?”

“Because that is life, my child; that is life.” Or better yet, “We all die someday, dear, some sooner than others.” All said with a ghoulish look and an air of insanity. Muahahaha. (In all actuality it has nothing to do with me, it’s just the curriculum. But why spoil the fun?)

Anyway, I digress, there are actual students that I will miss and there are classes I will miss. I know that I’ll likely never have the same exact combination of individual personalities in one place again. I will miss the verbal banter of those who truly “get me,” the intellectual discussions of the bookish, the life lessons conversations with those in turmoil. I enjoy teaching English, but I usually enjoy the interactions I have with other humans more. Discussing ideas, literature, means of self-expression and communication hits the sweet spot for me because these activities involve other people – my students.

My Summer Un-plan

The more I think about what I want to do with my summer break, the more I’m convinced that I just want to BE.

I want the freedom of waking up with no agenda, no schedule in mind, and just doing, or not doing, whatever makes me happy. I want to do things leisurely; not rushing from one thing to the next and never really enjoying any of it. This blog post this  morning reminded me of just that. Slowing down to enjoy the space created by my summer break will hopefully help me to relax and re-energize.

Time in the park, walking, birdwatching, reading, writing, or doing yoga sounds like such a luxury right now. These shouldn’t be luxuries and I need to make time in my schedule to do the things that keep me motivated and feeling alive. I guess sometimes I just need a reminder that I don’t have to wait for summer to be happy.

Though We Continue

I must start by saying that this weekend was fantastic. I spent time outdoors with family, bought books, ate homemade food, and just enjoyed life. It was a good weekend for healing.

My grandmother (maternal) passed away one year ago yesterday (May 24, 2014). I had been home for the weekend that weekend as well and I remember it clearly.

My grandmother had been struggling with health issues for about a year and a half at that point, when you’re 78, that’s not all that unusual. That Saturday night we’d gotten a phone call from my grandfather saying that he thought maybe Gram had had another stroke because she woke him up, but couldn’t get out of bed. It was late, probably close to 12:45 – 1 am. My mom had gotten me up and asked if I wanted to go to my grandparent’s house with her and I’d agreed. Thankfully. We got to the house and the ambulance had just gotten there. As they wheeled my grandmother past me I grabbed her hand and said, “Grammy, I’m here. I love you.” She mumbled a response I couldn’t comprehend and all I knew was that she’d acknowledged my presence.

We followed the ambulance to the hospital where they told us she’d had another stroke. She wasn’t able to respond; she couldn’t talk. Doctors informed us that essentially there wasn’t anything they could do but keep her comfortable which they did.

I spent the next 14 or 15 hours by her side until she passed later that evening. I talked to her even though she couldn’t respond. I repeatedly told her I was there and that I loved her – we all did. It is an odd feeling knowing that you’re awaiting the death of a loved one; this wasn’t the first time I’d had the honor of attending the death of a loved one, but I would have to say, this one has hit me the hardest. It has stuck in my memory most vividly.

I remember watching as she struggled to breathe and how distressed I’d become. They’d had a hard time convincing me that she was in no pain though I’m sure she wasn’t. I remember her passing and I remember thinking, now what? I’d spent hours with her preparing myself for the fact that soon she wouldn’t be with us, but now that she was no longer in this life, I was having difficulty figuring out what to do with myself. I couldn’t seem to get my brain to work. Deciding whether I needed to sleep or eat had become a monumental task.

The days that followed passed in a blur. I remember emailing work to request time off. I remember helping to pick out a box for Gram’s ashes. I remember laughter and tears, family and friends. I remember spreading her ashes and saying my goodbyes.

Fast forward to this weekend. Saturday night I woke up out of a dead sleep at 1:15 am. I tossed and turned for at least an hour before eventually falling back to sleep. And thought it didn’t occur to me at the time, I can’t help but wonder if my body wasn’t just going through the motions of memory. Whether coincidence or not, I choose to believe it was Gram’s way of letting me know she’s still with me.

Several times though out this year I have thought of her fondly. Those times creep up on me and often take me by surprise. Like when I picked up an adult coloring book and began using colored pencils and found mixed in among my pencils ones that had belonged to Gram. Or when I’d cleaned out the basement and found old photos from Gram and Pap’s 50th wedding anniversary. Or when I’d gone looking for a blanket to wrap myself in on the couch and found one my Gram had made me. These moments are the ways I prefer to remember Gram; not in the way that she died, but how she lived. The things she created. The love we shared.

So though we continue on, Gram is still in our hearts and on our minds. She lives on in me through my creativity and love of art. That is how I choose to remember.

Reflections on Current Reading

It has been quite sometimes since I’ve kept any type of readers’ journal, but I’ve always found them to be enjoyable and worthwhile. They offer me insights into my own reading life that I might otherwise never pick up on. One does not reflect on breathing…it just happens naturally, but perhaps by reflecting on my own reading life I can help my students to become better, more thoughtful readers.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on my current read (WARNING: Potential Spoiler Alert):

I’m currently 82 pages into Dinner with Buddha by Roland Mercullo and I’m finding it difficult to put down. I’m drawn in by the characters and can sense their warmth. I am particularly fond of the childlike Rinpoche. I’m feeling somewhat skeptical of Seese’s “prophetic” dreams, but I’m willing to humor her for the time being. I’m curious to see if or how my thoughts on this will change throughout the novel. So far I think I’m more indulgent than Otto on this front, but still not convinced that this novel will pull off the promised world of peaceful co-existence by the end of its 344 pages. Or is it truly more about the journey they take to get there than the end result? I guess I’m waiting to see just like Otto.

Quotes that have made me think or that I just plain enjoyed, so far:

“You can listen to the skeptical voice and go back to New York and the life you were leading there, or you can see all the awful things that have happened to you as a preparation, a turning over of the soil so it will be ready for a new crop to be planted” (64).

“Feels like you go in circle, yes? Like you come again back on the same place, many times. Same trouble, same thinking. But it’s not true, Otto. Meditation is like a wind here in the middle pushing you up, up. You want to go up in a straight like the rocket but you really go like this, this, how you say?”

“Spring” (65).

“Americans were half-crushed by the passage of time. Our spirits were dampened, twisted, mottled, trimmed. I don’t mean we all turned into semi-humans, but, well, speaking for myself at least, there was some leaching out of the vibrancy, the joy, the faith in my absolute uniqueness, in my claim to part ownership of this earth” (70).

Thinking about the Comments Section Trolls

Just thinking aloud tonight…

I’m one of those individuals who has a rather large soft spot for other people. I tend to think with my heart more often than my head, according to my husband, and I can’t really argue. The thing is – I’d rather be this way than be a cynic. Sure there are times when people have certainly taken advantage of me, I’m no fool. I have a strong sense of empathy for others. I also tend to see both sides of disagreements. These traits, while generally being positive characteristics, also cause me a fair amount of stress and anxiety.

I’m a curious individual and I like to keep up on current events, particularly local issues. I read articles from my local newspaper online via Facebook and Twitter. Recently I read an article about a family who had come upon hard times due to the major illness of one of the main breadwinners that eventually took his life. The wife and her children are currently living in a motel as they could not afford the security deposit along with rent for an apartment.  I read the article and then made the mistake of clicking on the comments section below the post on Facebook. There, among a few generally sympathetic responses, were some of the most vitriolic statements I could imagine.

This is not my first experience with this sort of degrading and vile commentary. The county I live in is almost stereotypical in its white, Christian, conservatism; when tragedy occurs these same people pull together in a show of amazing love and unity with one another; however, at the same time the same values they uphold in one instance of human need seem to completely vanish in others.

The issues are much more complex than the manner in which I am painting them here simply because human hypocracy is not my point, or at least I don’t think it is. What I’m really thinking about is how I have this tendency to open myself up to feelings of anger, resentment, and hurt by looking at the comments sections of articles I read. Perhaps I seek drama; that isn’t how it feels, but I’m open to that criticism. I am curious as to how others feel about the issues I’m reading about. I often want to hear the arguments of the opposition; it isn’t opposition that bothers me, but more the manner in which people express their opposition.  Since when did it become outmoded to consider others’ feelings, or mere civility, when commenting on issues that affect others’ lives?

Time and again I have sworn I will no longer read the comments sections; however, curiosity often gets the better of me. I don’t know why I let them bother me so much. I know that is what many of them are hoping for – to antagonize someone to the point of heated argumentative response. I have only ever responded by commenting back one time, but in the end it didn’t make me feel any better. Perhaps that’s the lesson I need to take away from these experiences.