Saturday, May 23, 2009


I'm finishing up reading my students' final pieces from this quarter. Some are wonderful, but this is always a depressing time as I reflect on how little I seem to have taught so many of my adolescent writers.

Here's a quote from an article by Chris Crutcher that comforts me somewhat: "If we adults can remember how much adolescence is about process rather than content, we have a chance of opening enough lines of communication to be there when the tough stuff starts."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Small Steps

I asked my eighth graders to pick the final read-aloud for the year. I've been reading books aloud to them for two years and I've chosen all of them. Some they've liked, and some not so much. This was my last chance to read to them before I send them off to high school.

After several nominations and a vote, they chose Small Steps, by Louis Sachar. I had read it before, and reviewed it here. While reading it aloud, though, I came to regret my rather dismissive tone in that review. This book is a fabulous read-aloud. It has everything my eighth graders want: action, suspense, humor, engaging characters, and even romance. I finished it this morning, and they were on the edge of their seats. What a great ending to the year!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Prayers for the Sick

It has always been difficult for me to find a balance between praying and worrying. Sometimes I have a tendency to start telling God how He should resolve the situation in all its awfulness, which leads me to focus on the awfulness, which leads me to fret, which, as scripture tells us, leads only to evil. This is especially true when the situation about which I am praying is something about which I have been attempting not to think too much, because it makes me sad and scared.

This is a time when written prayers help me, though I don't use them exclusively. Instead of focusing on the problem, I am led by the words to fix my thoughts on God's love, power, and faithfulness. I think of the many generations of Christians who have prayed the same words and who have found that God can be trusted for comfort and for answers.

If you, like me, are praying for the sick right now, here are some prayers from the The Book of Common Prayer which I have been finding useful.

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Strengthen your servant N., O God, to do what he has to do and bear what he has to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts through the skills of surgeons and nurses, he may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


"Language is always available, even to the poor, and you can have as much of it as you want." United States Poet Laureate Kay Ryan in an interview with Jim Lehrer

Ryan is talking here about spoken language, not written; it's possible to be so poor that you don't get to go to school and written language may not be available to you. But the way people speak, the fascinating quirks and rhythms of words - that, she says, is the basis of poetry and is what made her start writing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reading Update, Continued

It took me a week, but I'm back to finish the update I started last Sunday.

Book #15 of 2009 was Lucas, by Kevin Brooks, an intense novel about the way people treat each other and particularly the way they treat those they don't understand. This is a YA title.

Book #16 was The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta. As the title suggests, this novel tackles the issue of sex education. It also deals with religion and parenting. There's something here to offend everyone! Perrotta has created some complex characters who don't act predictably even when they are trying their hardest to stick to their beliefs; nobody looks very heroic. This book made me uncomfortable, which I would imagine was what the author had in mind. The portrayals of Christians put me on the defensive, and yet for the most part they seem to be straightforward, and not mocking.

Book #17 was Our Game, classic John Le Carré.

Book #18 was Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer, another YA book. This is a road trip story, with a feisty heroine and lots of shoes. What's not to like?

Book #19 through book #23 were re-reads, the first five books of Susan Howatch's Church of England series: Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, Scandalous Risks, and Mystical Paths. I love these books and have read the whole series more than once. They are highly entertaining page-turners, but with surprising depth, covering as they do the history of the Church of England for the past seventy years, various theological views, the exhaustingly eventful lives of a collection of complex characters (mostly members of the clergy), and many of the ways in which psychology and spiritual beliefs intersect. I particularly enjoy the masterful way Howatch shows us characters from different points of view; we see them from outside and from inside. Often someone is described with a sigh as being a person without problems, when we as readers know from a previous book about the harrowing crises this person has undergone.

Book #24 was Trouble, by Gary Schmidt. I enjoyed this book hugely, though I must say that my eighth graders found it rather slow going and got impatient with Schmidt's lyrical prose. However, they hung in there to the end to find out what would happen to the characters. There was one chapter, taking place entirely in a graveyard, that was among the most perfect I have ever read. This isn't as funny as The Wednesday Wars, but like that book it tackles all kinds of issues, this time including racism, privilege, and Cambodian history.

And, finally, book #25 was The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. Frankie is a student at an exclusive prep school who decides that she wants to be taken seriously and who figures out how to achieve that. This book is funny and sad, with a heroine who is strong, sure of herself, vulnerable, not sure of herself, in love, wanting to be just what her boyfriend wants, realizing that being what her boyfriend wants isn't enough, smart, analytical...unforgettable. I'd recommend this to students slightly older than my eighth graders; there's a lot to talk about here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reading Update

Lately I have been kept busy by things mostly unbloggable - family illness, work work work, assorted frustrations - and meanwhile my list of books read has been growing and growing. I'm not sure I can fit them all in one post. Here goes...

Book #11 of this year was Miracle at Tenwek, a biography of missionary doctor Ernie Steury. I love missionary biographies and enjoyed this one especially as I was familiar with so many of the people and places in it.

Book #12 was Three Weeks with my Brother, my first Nicholas Sparks book. This one is a memoir, telling the story both of Sparks' trip around the world with his brother and the broader story of his family. I've read far better travel books, and most of the amazing places the men visited together didn't come alive at all with his descriptions, but as a story of how this family dealt with adversity, it was worth reading.

Book #13 was The Scent of Eucalyptus: A Missionary Childhood in Ethiopia, by Daniel Coleman. I loved this book and its nuanced, often ambiguous portrayal of a childhood between cultures.

Book #14, Armageddon Summer, is by Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville, two well-known YA writers. It's the story of two teenagers taken by their respective parents to a mountaintop to await the end of the world, forecast by Rev. Beelson. I have an eighth grader reading this right now, and he was drawn right in by the first chapter.

And I'll end this update in the manner of so many of my students' be continued...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Theme Day - Shadow

I almost forgot! Since it is the first of the month, it is a DP Blog theme day, and today's theme is Shadow. Here you can see thumbnails of the participants' photos.

Poetry Friday - Free Verse Photo Project

I posted earlier about the Poetry in the Wild contest, where people were challenged to write a line of poetry somewhere other than a page, and then document the results.

Here's one of the winners and here you can see thumbnails of many of the submissions.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.