Tuesday, November 26, 2013


“There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it's up to you to decide how you're going to approach the world...how you're going to live in it, and what you're going to do."—Jo Ellen Chapman, Countdown

Sorry I've been a little lax, folks - we are moving!  The house is completely torn apart, and we are living out of two residences at the moment.  Kinda crazy at home, and when the new basement flooded last week, that pretty much took priority over everything.  Including this blog.  But I'm back on this week, and I have a new book to share!

Every generation has those moments from their childhood which seem to stand still because of the gravity of what was going on in the world.  Kennedy's assassination, the Berlin Wall coming down, the Challenger explosion - these are all moments in time that seem to freeze everything and spill over into our lives in frightening ways that are hard for a child to understand.  Parents would love to shield their children from these moments, but they are so huge that no one can hide from them. 

For me, the first time I remember really feeling that way was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995  I was in 7th grade, and I remember coming home from school that day, the world being all about me and my 13 year old drama, and flopping down on the couch complaining to Mom about this kid and that teacher and how the world was just so unfair.  Mom nodded and made all the right murmurs, but she wasn't paying a lot of attention.  When I got to the end of my rant, I said "so what did you do today?"  And Mom pointed at the TV screen and said, "just watching this, really."  I turned around to see the Alfred P. Murrah building blown half off, bloodied faces being interviewed, and a massive manhunt for the men they believed to be responsible.  I watched for hours that night as the search for survivors continued.  I remember seeing the toll number on screen for kids in Oklahoma City to call if their parents hadn't made it home yet.  For the first time, I felt unsafe in the world.  This was an evil that couldn't be made ok with a hugs and kisses from Mom and Dad.  Something had changed in the world, and my little teenage universe was no longer about me, but about things far beyond my grasp and control.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles is a new kind of novel about another such time in 20th century American history - the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It follows the story of Franny, an eleven year old girl growing up in the shadow of the Cold War in the 1960s.  Franny, her mother, Air Force pilot father, older sister Jo Ellen, younger brother Drew, and World War I veteran uncle live near Andrews Air Force Base in the era of the Kennedys, duck and cover, rock and roll music, and the civil rights movement of the sixties.  Like most eleven year old girls, Franny's world is very much about her own trials and tribulations, such as her best friend suddenly turning on her and a cute boy moving in across the street.  Her parents don't seem to see her or understand her, and nothing feels quite right or fair.  She knows about the nuclear threat from Russia, and she thinks if she can just get a letter to Chairman Khrushchev and explain things, she could put an end to the growing fear that has become a part of their everyday life.  Right in the midst of all this pre-teen angst, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 develops, and life in Camp Springs, Maryland seems to come to a standstill as the world holds its breath, waiting to see if they will wake up tomorrow to a nuclear holocaust.  Franny has to find her way in the world and begin to come to terms with how scary life can be but, in contrast, how much having your family around you to love and be loved by can make a difference in deciding how, as her sister Jo Ellen puts it, she is going to approach the world.

First, the historical perspective.  I love historical novels, and this is no exception.  However, this novel add a new dynamic to the classic historical novel.  It is what the author calls a "documentary novel."  Throughout the book, interspersed through the pages, are slices of life from 1960s America.  Pieces of speeches by presidents and civil right movement leaders are printed in large print.  Song lyrics are randomly interwoven with Cold War propaganda posters.  Occasionally there is a biographical mini report on someone who shaped that era, such as President and Mrs. Kennedy.  Throughout the narrative, there seems to be a soundtrack of a civil defense filmstrip, telling kids what to do in case of a nuclear attack.  (Because, after all, a nuclear blast can destroy everything within hundreds of miles, but if you duck and cover your head you should be fine, right?)  It's as if this soundtrack is playing in the back of Franny's mind all day, all the time, no matter what is going on around her.  As the threat of the Missile Crisis grows, so does the intensity of this soundtrack of her mind. 

The book's narrative is also written in present tense, which is absolutely perfect for this character and what's going on around her.  Eleven year olds hardly think about the past, and they certainly don't think too much about the future.  Everything is very in the NOW with them.  What's more, the pressure of the Missile Crisis had everyone living moment by moment.  America literally did not know what was going to happen next.  At any moment, bombs could start falling from the sky.  It was a very "clear and present danger" kind of time.  The present tense illustrates that tension beautifully. 

The book is well written and manages to capture both the struggles of Franny in her life and the struggles of the global crisis around her, balancing between the two and even drawing parallels.  Her relationship with her best-friend-turned-enemy, Margie Gardener, heats up in the exact timing of the Missile Crisis, and the reader sees two people who just can't seem to communicate well at the same time they see two countries that couldn't manage to get their relationship happy either.  October 27, 1962, the Crisis reached a climax when Major Rudolf Anderson was shot down and killed over Cuba.  This is day Wiles chose for Franny to have her climactic moment in the book, her damaged friendship with Margie coming to a head, with dramatic and tragic results.  The two crises are felt keenly by the reader, and as a result, you wind up in the head and heart of Franny as she struggles to sort it all out and find her place in her family, neighborhood, and world. 

In the end, it's a book about love, family, friendship, and choosing how you will enter the world.  It's a book about the personal struggles we face every day as well as the global threats around us that affect us more than we know.  It takes us back to a time and place where childhood was idyllic and terrifying all at the same time.  It captures the mood of a nation and the mood of a little girl in 20th century America, just trying to be seen and understood by those around her. 

It's a delightful book.  I enjoyed both as an adult reader and as a teacher looking for books to recommend to young readers.  This would be a great book to recommend to readers about 5th grade and up.  Wiles has two other companion novels coming about life in the 1960s, and I can't wait to read those as well and she where she takes some of these characters.  This is a great series either for teaching history or just for reading for enjoyment.  Check it out and travel back to experience life in the 1960s - you won't regret the trip.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

Top 5 TBR:
1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3. A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian

Monday, November 11, 2013


This blog is entitled Confession of a Hopeless Bookworm.  Thus far I have focused on books I am confessing to have read or books I am actively reading.  There is another kind of confession: those books that I am supposed to have read but, for whatever reason, I have not.

Some of them just didn't catch my interest.  Some of them took too much time.  And some of them have sat on my shelves for decades now, waiting for me to stop putting them off.  At any rate, here is my List of Books I Should Have Read By Now:

1. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  I went through a major Holocaust phase in elementary school.  I have read The Cage, Night, and countless other books and personal narratives.  So why I have I not read THE book of the Holocaust, that quintessential story of this horrific era?  I honestly don't know.  I have started it dozens of times.  I have never even gotten to the point where they start hiding.  It's embarrassing, but no, I've never actually read it.

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  You would think with my affection for Gone With the Wind that I would be addicted to Civil War novels.  However, I have never gotten past the first chapter of this book.  Does that  get me thrown out of the girl club?  Oh well, I don't know how to do my eye makeup either, so maybe it's just as well.  I simply never got into this book. 

3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.  This is a confession because I was SUPPOSED to have read it in high school. Plus I really like Dickens, so I should have read the thing. I had five novels to read for my summer reading assignment in preparation for English 12AP.  I read four of them.  I ran out of time and Cliffed this one.  I also rocked the test on it...but what goes around comes around: I was so busy reading the Cliffs Notes* for this book the night before the summer reading test that I did not review the other books and bombed the other parts of the test.  Well played, Mrs. Turk. 

*Cliffs Notes, children, were what we used in the days before Wikipedia to fake our way through tests.

4. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  As I mentioned in this post, I never got into these books.  I realize that I am a girl that grew up in the Midwest and therefore I am supposed to fawn over these books, but I just can't get there. 

5. Anne of Green Gables and the rest of the series by L.M. Montgomery.  When I was about 8, I fell in love with the Avonlea series and the Anne of Green Gables mini-series on the Disney channel.  (For those of you who might be my younger readers: children, once upon a time the Disney channel produced good, quality family entertainment, unlike the nonsense you find on there now.)  I asked for and received the entire series for Christmas, and I eagerly set out to read them...and never succeeded.  Not even once.  BUT - I view them as my next A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  It took me decades to getting around to reading that book, but once I did, I loved it.  I really think I will conquer Anne one of these days. 

6. The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  This is on the list because I love Shakespeare and I feel like I should have read more of his works by now.  But I haven't picked up one of his plays since high school.  Pity - they are amazing, he does incredible things with the English Language.  This is on my bucket list - to read every one of his works. 

7. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  Confession: I love Jane Austen.  Second confession: the only novel I have actually read in its entirety is Pride and PrejudiceBut I WILL finish her complete works one day!

8. 1984 by George Orwell.  I haven't read any of Orwell, actually, but I feel like I should in order to be a well-rounded adult. 

9. Wuthering Heights  by Emily Bronte.  I've read Jane Eyre - why haven't I read this one again?  More confessions: haven't even seen the movie.  I know, I am a terrible excuse for a young woman. 

10. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I covered not reading this book in this post, but it still embarrasses me that I've never gotten through it.  I really would like to, but every time I try, I fail.  I absolutely love the movies, even the extended versions, so it's not the length.  I have no idea why I have this block against finishing this book, but it's there.

Phew!  I feel so much better getting that off my chest.  What about you?  What books have you never read that you feel like you should have by now?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Their Own Way

Sorry to be gone last week folks, but I was out of town at an education conference.  Once I got back, I spent the next few days playing major catch-up.  So I am just now sitting down to get the blog updated - my apologies! 

My saturation with all thing education last week brought me back to one of my favorite education books.  As a special education teacher, I can testify with confidence that kids do not all learn the same way.  In fact, no two students are exactly alike.  Yet we have a very narrow idea of what "intelligence" really is or how learning should take place.  Our dream for our children can be too small - and we wind up hindering their true potential as a result.

In Their Own Way by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., takes a look at our idea of what "smart" means and how in truth, there are many ways to be "smart" and bloom.  Most people in education these days are familiar with Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences.  The idea is that people are smart - intelligent - in different ways, but our school system tends to reward only one or two of those ways.  Gardner has identified eight different "intelligences":  body-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, spatial, linguistic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.  Schoolwork tends to be aimed at those strong in the mathematical or linguistic intelligences.  However, what if we were able to allow kids who were musical or spatial to learn in their own way?   How would that change the amount of information and skills they'd be able to obtain and use in their lives?

Thomas Armstrong takes this theory and runs with it in an extremely applicable way. He addresses issues of multiple intelligences in schools and reasons why your student may not be thriving.  The chapters are chock-full of insights and great ideas for both the home and the classroom.  But my FAVORITE part of the book is in the back where he breaks down books, games, internet sites, learning materials, and a TON more for each specific intelligence.  It's like a treasure trove of ideas for anyone who works with kids, whether an educator, teacher, day-care worker, counselor...anyone who works with kids would benefit from these final chapters.  They are massively useful in helping kids reach their full potential. 

Some examples:

- Have a child who is strong in bodily-kinesthetic form punctuation marks with their body posture to teach grammar

- Come up with chants and songs to help students learn math concepts in a musical manner

- Use puzzles to teach countries to kids with strong spatial skills

In addition to providing a massive amount of resources and good ideas, the books is well written and easy to read.  It's not at all  "academic" in its vernacular.  You don't have to have an Ed.S. to understand it.  Dr. Armstrong's goal is to provide useful information rather than a professional or highly academic discussion, and he surpasses that goal with his book's structure and word choice.

I also found the book to be very personally applicable.  In reading the book, I realized that I am very strong in the linguistic and intrapersonal intelligences.  I can go to those sections of the book and identify strategies that can help ME learn new concepts. For example, journaling my way through new ideas is a great way for me to learn because it uses both of those strengths. 

If you interact with kids at all, this book is for you.  If you've ever struggled with getting a concept into a kid's head, this book is for you.  If you've ever wondered why your child doesn't do well in school, the book is for you. 

In short...there's a good chance this book is for you.  Check it out! 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What I'm Reading Now: Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge

Top 5 TBR:
1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy
3. A Prophetic Calendar by Jill Shannon
4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan
5. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordian