books · kids · reading

Reading for the Holidays

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At this time of year, I love to give books to those that I love.  I especially treasure the chance to search out new and unusual books for all the readers in my life.  One book that will be under our tree come Christmas morning is the second much anticipated book from Cressida Cowell called The Wizard of Once: Twice the Magic.  My ten year old was elated when we discovered the first one in a small book shop in Scotland this summer.  After he devoured this tale he wanted more.  How could I resist?  When the book was released it made its way into my shopping cart to await Christmas morning.  Not to be outdone, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is still a household favourite with my two boys.  The newly anticipated The Meltdown will be making an appearance at our house via a gift from Grandma.  Jeff Kinney continues to delight not just my kids but also my students who are in grades 9 and 10 especially appealing to my struggling readers.  They love the stories and I am happy to offer these books in my classroom library.  One recommendation came from a colleague who shared with me Kenneth Oppel’s novel The Boundless.  I am often Instagramming (@Miss_T_Books), Facebooking and using Goodreads to share my reading highlights, so he suggested this book to me. Described as both an adventure novel and a murder-mystery it sounds like a delicious read for my son.

Sometimes a book pops out or finds me in the book store.  At a recent member’s only shopping event at my local Indigo, I found that book while waiting in the very long line that stretched to the back of the store.  Trying to balance my large bundle of books stacked strategically in my arms, I passed the music section with not only biographies and vinyl records on display, but one stand out.  Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks by André and Tenaya Darlington was that book.  I was immediately drawn to the photos, art and recipes knew exactly who would love this book.  Three people in fact who are known to mix the odd drink from time to time while listening to various tracks flow from the speakers.  These were the people who would love this book so into my bundle it went!

The holidays are that time of year where we can give freely of ourselves, our time and share with others.  I am fortunate to be able to give back so each year a few children’s gifts get purchased and with every gift, a book in enclosed.  A young girl had asked for arts and crafts so naturally I added a picture book of Georgia O’Keeffe to hopefully inspire this child in her creative quest.  For another it was a picture book of penguins.  No matter what the gift, a book can inspire, spark that creativity or just be enjoyed on a hot summer night sipping a Queen’s cocktail.

I wonder what books will be under the tree for me?

 

Alice Munro · books · Canadian books · Canadians · short story · Uncategorized

New Canadian Authors to Discover

My recent trip to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in Bayfield and Wingham Ontario earlier this month was a treat.  Although I was only able to attend the sessions on Saturday I was not disappointed.  I heard one of my favourite Canadian voices as Ami McKay took the stage and delighted the audience with her process and a short selection from The Witches of New York.  McKay is fast becoming one of my favourite authors as I have been a fan since her debut novel The Birth House.  Her writing process and her interest in historical events, people and places gives her stories life and the connections to her own relatives is fascinating.  If you have not read McKay’s work yet, please do so because she is one of the best.

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Further I was introduced to new voices including Sarah Meehan Sirk and her debut of short stories called The Dead Husband Project.  Please read my review of this brilliant new Canadian voice in the link.

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In addition to Meehan Sirk, I was introduced to my first transgendered writer Casey Plett.  Plett is a new voice in Canadian literature and her novel, Little Fish tells the tale of a Wendy, who is transgendered coming back home only to learn that her grandfather may have also been transgendered.  Shockingly, the grandfather was from a devout Mennonite background at a time when transgendered would not have been discussed.  Plett offered the audience a little glimpse of her story (see picture above) and I was so intrigued as she started to tell Wendy’s story.  She writes with vivid candour and develops each character’s voice in a unique way.  I look forward to reading more of her work.  Casey was exceptionally gracious and kind as she signed books at the end of the panel.  Always a thrill for a bibliophile like me!

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Lastly during the festival I was so fortunate to hear from established Canadian-Irish writer Emma Donoghue who was so funny and intriguing to listen to.  She had the audience captivated from her first word.  Although slated to read from The Wonder, her latest novel, she opted to instead read to us a hilarious story she had written for radio called The Road Taken (a nod to Robert Frost).  She did not fail in her delivery as the audience laughed out loud at the absurd tale of a mother harshly criticized on social media.  I will never hear the word (#) hashtag the same way again.  Donoghue’s commentary on social media and her insight into writing in general was refreshing and very inspiring.

Overall I am so happy that I took the solo road trip to the festival.  It was well worth my time and what I learned from each author was incredibly invaluable as not just a reader and writer, but as a teacher too.  I look forward to going to the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story in 2019.

Alice Munro · books · Canadian books · Canadians · short story

The Short Story and my love affair with famed Canadian author Alice Munro

I vividly remember my first look into the literary world of Alice Munro. I was in my first year of university at Brescia College in London, Ontario and my thoughtful professor had enough foresight to include The Lives of Girls and Women on the syllabus. That book was a wonder and changed how I read short stories forever.

For those who do not know about Alice Munro, you should. Most recently I introduced her flavourful writing style to my book club when we read Dear Life published in 2012. I have to admit, I was shocked many of these women who I admire greatly had never read anything by one of my favourite writers. How could this be? The average age of book club members is 65 and I was astonished she had been missed by these well-read women.

Munro is the kind of writer that has a unique voice. Her characters come alive in their simplicity and complicated lives. She writes equally in a woman’s voice or a man’s or a child’s for that matter. Not all writers can successfully pull that off. When I read stories by Munro I am transported to that place and time easily. She writes paying special attention to local colour, dialogue and setting as she tells each story. The details are memorable long after the book closes.

“His tan looked like pancake makeup, though it was probably all real. There was something theatrical about him altogether, tight and glittery and taunting. Something obscene about his skinniness and sweet, hard smile.”
-from the story Mischief from Who Do You Think You Are? (1978)

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Munro is an author I have come to greatly admire as each of her books gets better and better with time. I have always appreciated the characters she creates in her stories. From my first meeting with Munro through her character Del in The Lives of Girls and Women to other characters like Flo and Rose who grappled with the realities and hardships of growing up. Munro was not afraid to write female characters who were challenging sexual stereotypes, engaging in risk-taking behaviour and really, enjoying an odyssey of self-discovery. This is most likely why her stories resonated with me in that first year English class.

As a Canadian, I also have a deep appreciation for the settings that Munro chooses in her stories. Some are just SO Canadian that I can feel like I’ve been there before. Some are reflective of small town Ontario while others venture into bigger cities like Toronto and Vancouver.

“Now there was a village. Or suburb, perhaps you could call it, because she did not see any Post Office or even the most uncompromising convenience store. The settlement lay four or five streets deep along the lake, with small houses strung close together on small lots. Some of them were undoubtedly summer places
— the windows already boarded up, as was always done for
winter season.”
-From Runaway published in 2004.

As much as I admire all of Alice Munro’s books I probably liked Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage the best. Published in 2001, this collection of nine stories is a work of literary art. Each character so uniquely different telling a story that is their own. The dialogue is sharp and quick-witted when called for. Her characters are described in minute detail: “…a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair came into the railway station and inquired about shipping furniture. …Her teeth were crowded to the front of her mouth as if they were ready for an argument.” Amazing. I can see her now. As a reader who readily enjoys descriptive writing, Munro is a marvel.

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One summer my family and I accidentally came across The Alice Munro Literary Gardens in her hometown of Wingham, Ontario. For a bibliophile like me, this was like seeing a rock star. All of her works were there with a beautiful small garden to wander through. Munro has also received numerous awards for her body of work and many of the attributes were on hand to view. She is a much celebrated and admired writer of my country.

As I close this blog post I credit Alice Munro for cultivating my love of the short story. It is not an easy feat as a writer to achieve a successful short story that is engaging and entertaining. Because of her, I have sought out short stories and discovered new authors along the way which is one of the best things about reading. I urge you to find an Alice Munro collection and read it. She is engaging, witty and writes with considerable depth and consideration. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

books · non-fiction · tidying

Sparking Joy

This was the second book that I read by Marie Kondo and like her first book, I enjoyed it. I am a tidy person by nature so I was intrigued by this book to see how it added to her first debut book. KonMari gives some great suggestions especially when it comes to large spaces in the home like kitchens and bedrooms. Her methods are relatively easy to follow (although I have not mastered folding just yet!). I like her method of laying everything out in one space. Although daunting, it does work as I have mastered this with my clothing and footwear.

Because we are in such a consumer-driven culture in North America, her book is very refreshing. Do I really need all the stuff I have? Do I really need more stuff when I shop? Probably not. Because I am an avid reader, I found her “book” section the hardest to complete. I like to think of my books as old friends but KonMari does offer some excellent advice when it comes to the discarding method. When I look at the number of books that I have, in particular textbooks from classes I have taken for professional development, I realize that she is right. Why am I keeping these items? Time for the recycle bin.

Although her methods are not for every person, KonMari writes in an encouraging and thoughtful way. She even tackles a section in her book of almost a how-to live with other people’s stuff without losing your mind. She is a thoughtful writer and I appreciate her advice for sparking joy in the items that I already have.  GoodReads Review

books · education · literacy · reading · teaching

The Reluctant Reader

As the new school year begins I find myself preparing to face three classes of reluctant readers.  I am sure many of them will be feeling some anxiety and pressure as they enter my class for the first time this coming Tuesday.  They won’t be alone.

After three years away from a traditional classroom, I will be returning to a regular timetable, predictable hours and a steady prescribed curriculum.  I am nervous and anxious too!  However that being said, I am looking forward to connecting with my grade 10s and 12s who will be motivating me each day to get up and help them to find their writing and reading groove.

In my seventeen years of experience as a classroom teacher I have seen many changes especially when it comes to Ministry expectations and trends in education.  One thing that has not changed is the emphasis on reading and writing strategies; only the strategies have gotten smarter and better considering the teenage brain.  Research tells us that teenagers need sleep and a lot of it (9-10 hours a night) to function and pay attention in class.  For a classroom teacher and their students, the struggle is real.  I have to motivate and encourage those sleepyheads to read and write as early as 8:30 a.m.!  I’m in for a challenge because the students are already coming into the class with some pre-existing issues.  From self-esteem, to functional literacy skills and learning disabilities I will have my hands full.

A few strategies that I have picked up along the way are from author Marilyn Reynolds.  Reynolds first came to my attention at the beginning of my career as I was pursuing additional qualifications in Reading and Library.  Her approach to education is very refreshing as she has over 30 years’ experience working with at-risk youth.  Her book I Won’t Read and you Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers published in 2004 is still relevant today.  Reynolds has helped me tremendously when working with both at-risk students and those who are unmotivated.

Some strategies she uses with success (and that I have adapted myself) include:

  • Respecting students including their experiences, attitudes and choices regarding what they choose to read
  • Helping students become accountable for their actions
  • Practicing reading and writing each day

I found that all the above strategies are incredibly helpful but the respect piece is most important for classroom success.  In my years as a teacher I have learned that all these young people come from all walks of life and each person has their own story to tell (or not).  This influences what is available to read in class.

IMG_2788One of the strategies that I have implemented is to visit the library on a scheduled and predictable basis to refresh the book collection and change up our day-to-day scenery.  I have students who only gravitate to graphic novels while others ask for specific authors that reflect a particular demographic like Sister Souljah’s Midnight series.  Other students have asked for only non-fiction books like the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Series or yearly National Geographic Almanacs.  I have also included Reynolds series of novels that she wrote that are geared towards young people including titles like Telling and Love Rules.

Further I found that timely feedback is so important to a reluctant reader and writer.  Whether they have just finished their first journal entry or written a paragraph, my feedback is key.  Students also like to be read to no matter how old they are.  I will often choose a novel or non-fiction piece that we can read a little each day.

I had tremendous success several years ago when I chose to read the story of Steven Truscott to my class.  At the time we were studying In the Heat of the Night by John Ball and I wanted the students to see that injustice can happen at any time and to any person.  Real Justice: Fourteen and Sentenced to Death by Bill Swan was the perfect pick for that class at that time.  Because I was working with so many students who had experienced troubled times like an arrest, they could relate to story.  They were particularly outraged at the sentence Truscott received because of his age.  I heard many of them exclaim, “That’s my brother’s age!” or “I was fourteen when I was accused of…”  We followed up the unit with some media footage of Truscott who was acquitted 48 years later.

As I get ready to merge back into the classroom I hope to implement some if not all of these strategies with my three classes.  The appeal to make it through the doors each morning with acceptance, respect and a treasure trove of reading materials that they may learn to love.

 

book club · books · reading

Why I Love My Book Club

My book club is a place where I can seek refuge from the world for an hour once a month to have active and insightful conversations with the women who are part of it.  I like to think that the book club that I belong to is unique as our membership ranges in age from 40 to most recently, 94.  I love these women and what they bring to the club.

This past Saturday I attended the funeral of our leader Dorothy Johns.  She very recently bequeathed the title of leader to me as she became sicker with those things that plague a 94 year old person including poorer eyesight.  I was so humbled by this appointment and took it (and continue to take it) very seriously.  Dorothy was a force to be reckoned with. She was one of the kindest and compassionate people I had the privilege of knowing even if it was for a short time.

One thing we had in common was our passion for reading. Dorothy was a person who took the time to research the books we would be reading through our Hamilton Public Library spending hours researching the reviews of books and the author biographies. She often tried to incorporate best-sellers with Canadian authors into our list for the year.  This gave all of us the opportunity to read books we may have otherwise passed on while browsing the book shelves.

Being part of the this book club means a lot to me, as not only an avid reader, but a person who values the insight of the women who are part of it. Each woman brings a different perspective to the books we read including such first-hand accounts of living through the First World War.  Other women of the group have been incredibly candid discussing stillbirths and miscarriages as we read Call the Midwife.  For the one woman who shared her sorrow with us about her stillborn baby, it was the first time she had ever talked about her child openly.  There were a few tears shed that meeting.

Further the women in the group have worked in various professions including nursing, education and law.  They have lived through not only different decades but different centuries sharing what it was like to live through (and survive) The Great Depression in various parts of Canada and abroad in the 1930s.  They have lived to see segregation and Residential Schools be the norm of a society in the 1960s and beyond.  After reading Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, it sparked an intense and lively conversation around Residential Schools in Canada and how finally, Canadians are speaking about this horrific event in our storied history. One of our members who is incredibly passionate about social justice issues spoke so passionately about the issue and what she remembers seeing and hearing as a child.  I was so moved by her thirst for justice.

Book Club has also been a great place to laugh out loud as we discussed some ridiculous characters from novels recently read or the antics of some of the memoirists  (Farley Mowat in Otherwise).  Book Club is a place where there are no walls.  We laugh freely, can debate fiercely and most of all, share our love of reading.

I hope I can make Dorothy proud by following her example.  I have some big shoes to fill.

books · kids · thrifting · used books

Thrifting and Sifting for Gold

One of my favourite pastimes is to go on a hunt.  Not for the usual suspects like caribou, deer and moose (I’ll leave that to my brother and nephew), but the hunt for odd, rare and unusual books that may have missed my path in a conventional book store.

Today I did go thrifting with the intention of finding a colander (success!) but I also found a treasure trove of books at the St. Vincent De Paul (SSVP) in Cambridge, Ontario.  What I love about this thrift store in particular is the attention to detail in their displays (colour co-ordinated), the cleanliness of the store (no musty smell here!) and the treasures I find there.  The book department that is pictured has much to choose from.  I often gravitate to the children’s section as my boys love to read and be read to.  Because the price of books can be out of reach for many parents’ budget, I look to the thrift store and the local library to fill their desire to read.

Today I found a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson but written for children.  I studied Dickinson in university but also with my students and her poems can be complicated and dark at times.  It was refreshing to find this slim volume on the shelves to introduce some poetry to the boys.  I also found a copy of Cue for Treason which I was so tempted to buy but refrained as I don’t think my oldest would be ready for it.  As I further explored the very full shelves, I found some good books for my little one who is just starting to read and write.  Books about fire trucks, colours, and a moose who takes a bath will keep his interest.

A fan favourite in our house at the moment is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  Although my son has read most of them, if not all, I came across a new-to-me copy of the first book.  I couldn’t resist.  I can leave it in the car, bring it to the trailer or even to Grandma’s house for when he gets bored or needs to have a laugh.  Although I walked away with about seven books for the boys I was unsuccessful finding something for me.  I was not disappointed as this is part of the fun trying to find a new author on the shelf or a well-known one.  All in all I paid $22 for my books and other treasures at this gem of a store.

Aside from visiting this thrift store, I also like to visit my local Hamilton Neighbour to Neighbour Book Store when I can.  I discovered more of Ian Rankin here, Canadian fiction on their shelves and many copies of the Geronimo Stilton series.  A few titles for me and a few for the kids.  Again it is the hunt that excites me.  I also enjoy talking to the staff who are made up of volunteers about the different books and they may entice me to try an author I may have passed over.  Lastly as a bonus, the cost of the books is a fraction of what I would pay in a book store.

One of the benefits from thrifting for books is to donate the books when I am through with them (unless I loved it!).  I am sorry to be missing the Church of the Resurrection’s Annual Book Sale the second Saturday in May this year.  Many of my favourites and not so favourite books have made their way to the sale.  I love to see the patrons leaving with their huge bag of books knowing the books have a new home and they only spent $4. Cheap entertainment indeed.

So I will keep on the hunt thrifting and sifting for gold among the well-loved books of people’s past.  Who knows, maybe the next author I discover will be you!