Friday, May 31, 2019

What it is to start Middle School

In May I was fortunate to spend the day with Ms. Strohman’s seventh graders at Marsteller Middle School. I was there to facilitate their discussion of the Giver by Lois Lowry. I am currently thinking about writing a book about the first week of middle school so instead of 'thank yous' I asked them if they would share with me some of the good and bad experiences from starting middle school the previous year. I received almost a hundred shares from them.

According to these students about one-third of older siblings are nice and tell you the truth about what to expect in middle school. The other two-thirds tell you about the mean teachers and all the homework and that even if you can remember your locker combinations it will usually jam on you anyway. None of this ended up being true.

The three biggest fears about starting middle school seem to be the locker, changing classes, and making it to class on time. I picture opening the book with a musical dream scene where our hero and heroine have lockers on either side of the hall from each other, they have not yet met, and neither can open their locker.

The rest of the students sing “Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock. Lock, Unlock.” While opening and closing their lockers.  Interspersed in the song are singers calling out multiple locker combinations. And because it’s a dream sequence, students can dance into lockers and then come out another locker further down the hall. “Stack your books, check your books, get your books.” Finally, the hall clears. Our hero and heroine are still standing in front of their unopened lockers, but they see each other and smile. We know it’s going to be love.

One boy reported that he got written up several times a day for being late to class and was given notices he was supposed to sign and return to the teacher. When she didn’t ask for them back, he threw them away. Another boy who thought the whole idea of changing clothes for gym was disgusting accidently put his pants in another boy’s locker and closed it. He had to ask around to find out who now ‘owned’ his pants. Another boy reported that on the first day of school there was no bus assigned to his neighborhood so he was a half hour late.

There was also a fear of not knowing anyone. This came strongly of course from people who had just moved to town but also from kids whose elementary school friends went to a different middle school. I think they should invent speed friending so those who wanted to, could meet a bunch a people and maybe find a friend.

My thanks to all the kids who shared.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Visit to Marsteller Middle School

May 16 I had the fun of spending the day with Ms. Strohman’s 7th-grade classes at Marsteller Middle School. We talked about The Giver bye Lois Lowry. It was the basis for a great discussion about what are utopian ideas for society and how they easily become dystopian ideas. There were very few defenders for any of the rules, in The Giver, that gave shape to the society. We also did some grammar exercises.
What I liked most was that I had been with them for a day last fall when they were practically brand knew seventh graders. Wow, they have grown so much. At least a third of them are taller than there teacher. And a couple of the boys are about to look me straight in the eyes. More importantly, though they have matured in themselves and in their thinking. They had a much greater ability to state and defend their thoughts and increased confidence in their positions.
One of the things I do is include incorrect words in my PowerPoint slides. And I tell them up front that I might lie to them, after all, I write fiction and it’s all maid up. I have small prizes if they challenge me and if they can give clear evidence about why what I am saying is not true. More of them were quick to call me out and made good arguments for why my claims weren’t true.
It was a great day.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart a 2 and a half hour read

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart                          a 2 and a half hour read

Okay this book made me cry, not constantly but several times. It is another story about a youth who stages a successful runaway aided by the silence of a friend, his devoted dog,  and one adult at the very end of the journey. There are others who might have helped him but he wouldn’t have it, he was determined to make it on his own.  The fact that the one adult at the end doesn’t intervene is a little hard to believe, but it makes the story. The story makes me think that sometimes we are certain we have to do things on our own, but maybe we are wrong, and maybe we should let people help us.

One of us is Lying by Karen McManus a four hour read

One of us is Lying by Karen McManus                     a four hour read

Five high school students end up in detention and one dies. Everyone including them thinks one of them committed murder. The four tell us the story. It is a good mystery and a look at what happens when suddenly your friends are not your friends anymore. A little talk about who is hooking up, who has hooked up and who has not;  other than that not much high school material.

Nightmares by Jason Siegel and Kirsten Miller a three hour read

Nightmares by Jason Siegel and Kirsten Miller                a three hour read

Charlie Laird is certain his stepmother is a witch. She is not only the spell casting, potion brewing type, but also the kind that catches children in their nightmares and threatens to eat them. In fact, every day the evidence grows, unfortunately not even his best friends believe him. They think she is rather nice. This is a fun and at time scary read. The thing about nightmares is that if we don’t face the underlying fears that feed them we will never escape them. Will you go back into the darkness to confront your fears?

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie a five hour read

And Then There Were None  by Agatha Christie          a five hour read

Agatha Christie is the premier mystery writer and this is no disappointment. Her stories are not scary but intriguing as the reader and the character both seek to figure out what is going on. I think there is a legitimate question as to whether she gives the reader enough information to actually solve the mystery or does she keep the truth so hidden we don’t stand a chance. I did not see the solution to this one coming. One of the things she does do very well is set scenes of large numbers of people, in this case ten, and you are able to track them all. This book doe include some older vocabulary and uses some prejudicial terms that would not be used in current writing. These did not distract from the story and helps us understand the time period in which it was written.

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass a three hour read

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass                        a three hour read

Mia has a secret she hasn’t told anyone. When she was eight she started to tell everyone but then heard “Freak.” And pulled it back in so even her parents don’t know she sees colors. Yes, letters, words, and numbers have colors. Somehow it is very helpful in history and language arts but not so much in math and foreign languages.  Now, like me, you are probably thinking why doesn’t she just search ‘I see colors?’ and discover it is a thing called synesthesia. Well, there are two reasons; one is we wouldn’t have a story and the other is the family is not very computer oriented. This is a good story about losing friends and making up. It’s about family being there for each other and it’s about assumptions being wrong. There is a lot of healing in this story. There is also a cat named Mango who is very important.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncell’s Library by Chris Gabenstein

An eccentric billionaire has spent five years building the most amazing Library in his home town which also happens to be Kyle’s home town. Because the town has been without a library for twelve years twelve twelve-year-olds will get to spend the night in the library before it is opened to the public. Kyle will be one of them. The wonderful adventure of this story is the children must seek clues to enable them to escape from the library. This is kind of a curious game because up until now everyone wanted to get into the library. And really after getting in it was so wonderful I would have like to stay, but sometimes the prize is so great it overrides all logic.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Donovan is anything but high achieving. He is energetic, exciting and fascinating or as a teacher would say he is challenging, disruptive and unmotivated. Yet he ends up at the school for gifted students. Some people love Donovan at the new school because he is a great addition to the robotic team and he is essential to winning the upcoming competition. Some people love Donovan because he breathes normalcy into this rather un-normal middle school. And some people can’t stand him. Donovan is confronted with many hurdles in this story. Personally I could never leap a hurdle.

The Lying Game By Sara Shepherd

The Lying Game By Sara Shepherd

Emma has a hard life in foster care and a harassing foster brother who is pointing the finger of accusation at her. His ultimate act is to show his mother a video of Emma playing at some dangerous game where she is strangled, only it is not Emma. Emma sets out to find the origin of the video and the other girl. She ends up becoming the other girl as she tries to discover what has happened and who did it. Even if you were identical how hard would it be to pretend to be someone you never met.

The Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson a one hour read

The Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson      a one hour read

This is the story of Chase Cooper who has moved across town and now goes to a new school. Fortunately, his cousin also attends the school and she is willing to help him fit in. So they have the laziest coach who takes them outside for gym and then he stretches out in a lawn chair for a nap. Chase and his cousin discover a band of ninjas hiding in the wood just beyond the playing fields. The ninjas are students who apparently slip away from gym class change into ninja outfits and hang out in the woods until the bell rings. The issue is, are they good ninjas or bad ninjas.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer a 5 hour read

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer     a 5 hour read

This is a dense but beautifully written book. Dense books are meant to be savored and not hurried.
Carmel’s parents have divorced and she lives with her mother. At least in the beginning, she does. She is kidnapped by an old man who uses a clever ruse. He manages to convince her that her mother is dead and her dad doesn’t want her. The old man wants her because he believes she has the gift of healing. He smuggles her to America where he travels the circuit collecting money from the believers. It is five years before Carmel is reunited with her family. If your loved one was missing how long could you go on believing or hoping they would ever come back?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas A 4 hour Read

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas  A 4 hour Read

Starr’s family lives in a poor neighborhood where they own a small grocery store. They live there by choice. They choose to try to stay and make things better. Yet Starr goes to a private school forty-five minutes away. After a party that ended with gunshots Starr is with her friend Kahill when they get pulled over by the police. Kahill is shot by the police. There is a lot of hate and loyalty and some love in this story. This story is a reminder of how difficult life is for some people in some neighborhoods. We often say make good choices and make a better life. I’m not sure what choices the people in this story could have made to make things better.