Book Review: Fish in a Tree

From www.mrschureads.blogspot.com
From http://www.mrschureads.blogspot.com

posted by Beret.

Reading level:  4-6 grade. The protagonist is in sixth grade, however, and she wouldn’t have been able to read it. In fact, that’s the point. This book is for anyone who has ever struggled in school or felt like they didn’t fit in.

One rainy day last July, I wandered into a bookshop and accidentally left with a stack of five new hardcovers. Just what I needed for my suitcase.

The clerk was lovely. She agreed enthusiastically with all of my opinions–which is terribly charming–and I bought Fish in a Tree based on her recommendation and its adorable cover. So much for judging books by their contents…although, I finished it last night, and that’s what I’m set to do now.

I loved it. Here’s why… Continue reading “Book Review: Fish in a Tree”

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Misfit Lit: Counting by 7s

From http://www.us.penguingroup.com/
From http://www.us.penguingroup.com/

posted by Beret.

Age Range: Grades 5-8.

I’ve always had a soft spot for what I call “misfit lit.” Into this category I throw a few of the best books for young people I’ve read in the recent past: Loser, by Jerry Spinneli; Wonder, by R.J. Palacio; and A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass. A major appeal of these books is that everyone feels like an alien at some point in their lives–often and particularly in middle school. Delving into the brain of an outsider and seeing how they experience and cope with difference can be both comforting and empowering. It could also encourage young people to look for what they might have in common with others, no matter how different they appear to be.

Counting by 7s is no exception. What is unique is that we spend a good deal of the book inside the head of Willow Chance–a girl with incredible intellectual gifts and a penchant for botany, medical texts, and the number seven. The author, Holly Goldberg Sloan, does not water down Willow’s vocabulary or personality in any way to make her character easier to swallow. In fact, it isn’t important for the reader to understand everything the main protagonist says or does throughout the novel in order to grasp her emotional turmoil and her desperate need to cope and connect. Continue reading “Misfit Lit: Counting by 7s”

Early Onset Activism

posted by Gina

Let’s make this month a trifecta of book posts, shall we?

We’re approaching May 1st, and I was remembering the day of protests back in 2006, when I was teaching in San Francisco. My high school students, many first generation, took the protests incredibly seriously, and I remember being impressed at how many of them took the day to do thoughtful work, and how few looked upon the boycott as an excuse to just miss school.

I was lucky enough to be at a school that encouraged discussion with and support of our students, so we spent a lot of time talking that week – in advisory, in class, in the hall. We don’t often give our young people enough credit for their thoughts and ideas, particularly as they think upon the state of the world and the way in which they can make their voices heard.

I stumbled across this post recently. You know how I love lists of book recommendations – well, this one seems timely.

a-is-for-activist

Continue reading “Early Onset Activism”

Spring Reading

posted by Gina

As Spring Break approaches, the cry arises: Help! What should I read?

If you’re looking to put together your kiddo’s Spring Reading List (or sneak in a few good reads yourself), I found a fabulous compilation from BookRiot – a new favorite blog.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 11.25.17 AM

Continue reading “Spring Reading”

A Brief Discussion of Gratitude in a San Serif Style.

posted by Beret. To the two of you who also subscribe to my personal blog, Bad Parenting 101: apologies for today’s simulcast!

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I wanted to take a moment to think about gratitude.

If that sentence gave you the heebie jeebies, join the club. For some unknown reason, I have a deep-seated repulsion for Chicken Soup-y type aphorisms and daily meditations.

Perhaps it is accentuated by the cliché art and bad fonts which typically accompany such things.

From www.lancelang.com
From http://www.lancelang.com

Don’t get me wrong. I love sunsets. In fact, I would be thrilled to be present for the moment depicted above. But what’s great about the setting sun over the lake is definitely not the cloying overscript on a two-dimensional reproduction.

Moreover, just because I won’t hang that poster doesn’t mean I have a beef with fostering gratitude. On the contrary! Gratitude is essential. I’m working on this often, striving to be a better person, and I certainly don’t want my kids to grow up to be selfish brutes. So…presenting…

A brief discussion of gratitude in a sans serif style.

A memorial billboard for mca from www.freshnessmag.com.
A memorial billboard for Adam Yauch, aka MCA from http://www.freshnessmag.com.

Semi-recent articles in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, the Atlantic Monthly, and Family Circle once again outline that teaching gratitude to your kids is important. Do it.

Why? Fostering gratitude doesn’t just make more tolerable people; it makes happier people. Jeffrey Froh (PsyD) did a study with middle schoolers. He asked one group to list up to five things for which they were grateful everyday for two weeks. Another group listed hassles, and the last group filled out surveys. The first group showed a marked jump in optimism and overall well-being that extended for a while, even after the study was completed. Those students also had a more positive attitude about school in general. Feeling grateful boosts happiness, gives people better perspective in life, and improves relationships at home, school, and work. (from Family Circle)

To sum up what I’ve learned…most experts recommend:

  • Model gratitude. Big surprise. Thank your kids. Thank your significant other. Thank friends, cashiers, relatives, teachers, baristas, maybe even the DMV clerk. After all, it must be a sucky job.
  • Give positive reinforcement. Even just “hey, thanks for noticing.” or “I appreciate your comment,” can help the set a pattern of behavior.
  • Give them less. Have kids work toward something they want, do chores, earn money. Let them know the value of an item. I could buy you those shoes, but then we can’t order pizza tonight. Lost a backpack? Help earn a new one. Talk about how work hours translate into garbage pick up, electricity, gasoline, vacation. Read aloud Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In addition to being a humorous and vivid story, it discusses hard work, chores, about wasting nothing. There is also a great discussion about the value of a silver dollar that Almanzo would like to spend at the fair. Another book recommendation: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. If that doesn’t make you appreciate having heat and food on the table, I don’t know what will. Amazing.
  • Volunteer as a family. We’ve started very small. We collect our change and bring it to CoinStar periodically, which allows us to select a charity and send it electronically. What could be simpler? It teaches them that even pennies and nickels can add up to something significant. We’ve also baked cookies and given them out to homeless people, sold cupcakes to raise money for charities, and currently we foster kittens for the SPCA.
  • Coach when appropriate. I often have my kids make their own purchases, even when they are using my money. I remind them to say thank you (before or after the transaction, not during. I try to avoid barking at them while they are mid-transaction) and ask them to leave a tip when appropriate. They need little nudges along the way. “I was disappointed that you didn’t seem more grateful after I helped you with your homework. I could have been doing other things.” Reminding them of opportunities to be aware and thankful is not cheating.
  • Structure a moment of gratitude into the day. Practice, practice, practice! Gratitude is a muscle that needs exercising. Examining life for the positive helps lay new pathways in the brain, creating a positive mindset. That explains why Jeffrey Froh’s experiment had such an impact. This is big! I grew up saying grace at the table, so it feels natural to ask my kids, “What are you thankful about today?” when we sit down to eat dinner. I answer the question, too.

I highly recommend Shawn Achor’s TED talk on Happiness. Don’t be put off by its title: “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” It actually includes the happy secret to better life. There are amazing nuggets tucked in amongst some amusing anecdotes. Among them: “90% of your longterm happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.” In other words, by your MINDSET. Further study has shown that increasing positivity increases creativity, energy, and intelligence, because the dopamine released not only makes us feel happiness, it turns on the learning centers of our brains.

In the last two minutes of his talk, he outlines five quick and easy ways to increase happiness–based on research and not hopeful speculation. Guess what comes in at number one? Write down three new gratitudes each day for 21 days in a row. That is why I now have a gratitude journal, though I can’t call it that, of course. The phrase “Gratitude Journal” makes me gag a little. I have a crass name for it which I can’t repeat here, but which makes me laugh every time I take it out. I figure that makes me happier, too.

This Book is Like Whoa

“Now here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince. Cover art for Wonder (above) is by Tad Carpenter, image from http://campusmlk.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/wonder.jpeg

posted by Beret

R.J. Palacio’s novel appears to be written for eight- to twelve-year-olds, but is, in reality, a compelling and inspiring book for readers of most any age. I do realize that Gina mentioned this book in a post from a while back, but after reading it myself, I felt it deserved a devoted post all to itself.

Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a boy born with severe facial abnormalities. He has been homeschooled by his mother his whole life, but when he turns ten, his parents decide to enroll him in a private middle school in New York City. Imagine all of the fear and insecurity, the freaky social and physiological transitions occurring at that time of life, and then imagine having to weather them all with a face that triggers screaming and crying, shocked stares, rude comments, and double-takes. “I won’t describe what I look like,” August says. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August emerges as an honest and straightforward narrator, explaining in unemotional terms what it is like to walk through the world as he does. He maintains a sense of humor through many of his struggles, as well as a remarkable tolerance and understanding for the way people relate to him. Usually.   Continue reading “This Book is Like Whoa”

Life After Harry Potter – Part Three

posted by Gina

Brace yourself, fantasy lovers – for this, the third post-Harry installment, I’m throwing a lot at you. Ready? Fabulous.

We’ve mentioned the majesty that is Jane Yolen before, so perhaps you’ve had a chance to explore the wonder that she has bestowed upon the world. If you haven’t come across Wizard’s Hall, however, now is the time.

Continue reading “Life After Harry Potter – Part Three”