Newbery | Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated . . .” With her grandmother’s taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved.

Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister’s name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysteriously returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a chance to fulfill her childish dream to work as a watermen alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

I did it! I read my first Newbery Gold Medal winner–Jacob Have I Loved, if the enormous image of the book didn’t tip you off. I posted a picture of the book on instagram and apparently gave someone traumatic middle school flashbacks. Hah! I have no such flashbacks because my librarian, Mrs. Green, wouldn’t let me read it because it “was not appropriate for a 6th grade girl.”

This book went along with me wherever I went the last couple of months, but I didn’t really start reading it until the other day, when I failed this fun BuzzFeed quiz on Newbery winners. How embarrassing. I’ve read ONE, The One and Only Ivan. I’ve read a ton of silver and honorable mention books, so I guess that’s something. You can see the list of gold medal winners in this post.

On the other hand, I was the dominator of the “How Many Banned Books Have You Read” quiz.

Jacobe Have I Loved, 2

There’s Mrs. Green’s infamous red pen! I have no idea who Emma is, but I know she wasn’t in 3rd grade. Not on Mrs. Green’s watch! That must stand for the number of “soiled pages” attributed to the slovenly Miss Emma. I told the 4th graders about Mrs. Green the other day, and how she wouldn’t allow us to say a word when we were in the library. She monitored what we read like hawks and and ran that thin-walled mobile trailer like a military base. Then, I told them how I walked to school in the snow uphill, both ways.

Jacob Have I Loved was good in a sad way, so of course I loved it. Nothing like sibling rivalry that never really gets resolved to warm the cockles of my cold, black heart. Toss is a 14 year old’s crush on a 70 year old man, an insane Methodist grandmother, loving but clueless parents, and the struggle to find your identity on an island off Maryland in 1945, and you’ve got the makings of a book you will never forget.

Books with Bullies

Wonder-by-R.J.-Palacio

I received a couple of emails asking for book recommendations, which I love. I don’t have all the answers, but I do like researching, and I’m smart enough to know when I’m out of my depth or when more than one voice may be beneficial. One email, in particular, struck close to home. It’s about bullying. Or, maybe bullying isn’t the right word, because I think that word gets overused. Playground politics might be a better way to describe the weirdness that surrounds 4th – 6th grade boys.

This year has been challenging for Mikey. He’s sensitive to teasing, even when the teasing is harmless and comes from his best friends. He, however, has no problem teasing other kids. He’s also prone to bottling up his frustrations. Top this with his elephantine memory and grudge holding capabilities, and we have a boy who loses his temper over something small because he didn’t address weeks ago an issue that really bothered him.

Here’s part of the email I received the other day.

Hi Jules,

I have a favor to ask of you, my 11 year old grandson has been acting out a bit at school (who knows why). This week he said some very hurtful things to a classmate. My daughter has talked with him about how our words can be so hurtful and actually shape another’s personality and how they view themselves. Do you know of a good book dealing with bullying and is one that will help to drive home the emotional side of these kind of actions? A novel with emotional impact.

She goes on to say that her grandson is an impressionable reader. He is one of those readers who can immerse himself in the characters, so reading a story about the other side of bullying might open his eyes to a new perspective. It’s a technique I’ve used with Mikey in the past–and present–because he, too, is an impressionable reader.

My immediate thought was Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. This is such an incredible book. I’m reading it to 4th through 7th, and they all love it. August is a boy with Treacher-Collins syndrome who finds himself in middle school after a life of homeschooling. His frequent reconstructive surgeries made homeschooling the natural choice. He has issues with a mean boy. He struggles to make friends. A friend betrays him. It’s an amazing book, not just because it deals with “bullying,” but because it also deals with mistakes. August knows that most people don’t mean any harm. They’re curious. How R.J. Palacio came up with the story is also inspiring, even though it did make me cringe. This is important, though, because it proves good people screw up. Then they learn from their mistakes and do better next time.

There is a scene in the book where August’s friend Jack teases him about his face. August and Jack can’t stop laughing, and at that point I stopped reading and asked Mikey’s class why they thought it was okay for Jack to tease August about his face, but not Julian (the “bully”). Mikey shot his hand up in the air and said, “Because Jack is August’s friend, and August knows he’s not saying it to be mean.” Then we got into a discussion about different types of humor, and how some people have dry humor, some people are sarcastic, and some people just like regular jokes. Your job as a friend is to know what kind of humor your friends enjoy and act accordingly.

It’s a great, great book.

blubber

I think I forgot to recommend that book in my reply email, if you can believe it. I was so consumed with presenting more than one option that I forgot to include my first pick! Lame, but so completely me. Anyway! I found a few lists of books and thought I’d share them here. If you have more books to recommend, please do so! That’s the whole point of this post. :)

This list on Goodreads is good, though some of the books may be too mature. 13 Reasons Why, for example, is about a suicide.

13 Reasons Why

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face.

The book is for ages 12 and up, so it is a middle school book, but I haven’t read it so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the age range. I would like to read it, and I’ve heard great things about it, but it’s been almost a year and I still haven’t worked up the courage–and I’m a person who likes her books dark!

PBS has a list of books about bullies. It seems tamer, more appropriate for a younger crowd.

Finally, the state of Washington put together a comprehensive list of books called Recommended Children’s Books On Bullying/Friendship Issues. That link is to the .pdf file. I hope it doesn’t automatically download to your computer! On my end, it opens up to a new viewing window/page with the option to download or print.

Okay! Whew. Everyone still here? That’s all I’ve got, fiction-wise. I’m reading a book for adults and Mikey is reading this book on handling friendships. Again, suggestions welcome.

p.s. How do you like that 80s Blubber cover? I read that book in middle school, and it’s still in the library–or at least that same issue. I should check and see if my name is on the card! That would be something else.

Happy, Happy, Library, Library, Books, Books

Ice Cube Reading

I love it when I get a good idea–even when they aren’t original and have been done a million times.

Yesterday, after I replied to an email about the shame boys feel when they are perceived as smart or bookish, I became increasingly angry with the situation. Boys! I would strangle all of them if I didn’t love them and they weren’t integral to the continuation of the human race. I had to do something to show boys that getting caught reading in public–The horror! The horror!–is not social suicide.

Enter, Ice Cube.

I spent some time with a 6th grade boy this week, trying to get him to read something, anything. (His grandma reads this blog so this is for her: I got him to check out The Lightning Thief and suggested he read it and see how it compares to the movie.) I know he loves rap music and basketball, and I know he read Harry Potter 1-4. On a whim, I started googling “rappers reading books,” “basketball players reading books,” and ever other combination of “guys teens would know” reading books.

Then, I posted the picture to Instagram where I knew he would see it. I might have given a small lecture on boys and reading, but nobody’s perfect. I showed great restraint under the circumstances!

Today, I got up early and posted a picture of Rupert Grint and Tom Felton (Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy) reading in between takes of one of the final Harry Potter movies because I know this boy checks his phone before going to school.

Tomorrow I’m going to post a picture I found of Lebron James reading.

#nothingwrongwithreading

I’ve been collecting all my pictures on pinterest in a rare instance of organized researching. I’m going to try an post a picture to Instagram as often as I can after I figure out the legalities of reposting pictures that aren’t mine. (Any lawyers out there with thoughts on this? I’m assuming I have to alter the picture somehow…)

In the meantime, let me know if you find a picture you think a teenage boy would appreciate. A few of you already have and sent me pins via pinterest. Thank you! It doesn’t have to be rap/basketball/Harry Potter. I searched for those because I had one boy in mind yesterday, but really I’m doing this for all boys, whether I know them or not. It’s better than strangling them.

A Jane Austen Education

a-jane-austen-education

I don’t know how I came across William Deresiewicz’s book on Jane Austen (A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter), but I think it was on an Austen fan page. I’ve been trying to find middle school friendly adaptations to spark an interest in the kids and, okay, fine, I was also looking for a Persuasion adaptation for me because one can never have too much Captain Wentworth.

I do know the first person I thought of when I saw Deresiewicz’s book was a 7th grade boy who is exceptionally bright and an avid reader. Until recently, he only read Star Wars books–the adult ones. He was stuck in the genre (I totally get that) and wouldn’t try anything new. Since I’m an avid reader and tend to fixate on things, I let him read his Star Wars and did nothing more than tease him about books I was going to sneak into his backpack. “It’s your lucky day,” I’d call out in front of the class when he sat down. “That limited edition copy of Anne of Green Gables you begged me for just came in!” He’d make a face like he swallowed a lemon and then laugh. One day he checked out another book–a fantasy I can’t remember now–and I pretended to pass out in my desk chair. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a girl commented that he often reads her romance novels during class.

“I’m bored,” he said. More on that in a minute.

Slowly but surely, he was getting burned out on the Star Wars books. He’s read every one at least three times, and on three day weekends or holidays he always checked out several to keep himself occupied. I decided to use this book to help me sell Jane Austen to a 13 year old boy.

ThePhantomoftheOpera_PenguinGroup

When he didn’t immediately go to his Star Wars section, I knew it was game-on. I swear I could hear the opening bars of the Jaws theme song as I weaved my way through the tables to get to him. As it turns out, I never mentioned the book. I told him that he looked bored and needed a challenge. He agreed. I suggested he try reading some of the classics and used cold, testosterone-filled logic by pointing out the 18th century English would challenge him and force him to read slowly until he got the hang of it. I could see he was thinking about it, almost ready to do it. To be on the safe side, I pointed out some other books like The Phantom of the Opera, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and a few other classics recently donated. He chose The Phantom of the Opera and made a mental note of the other ones he wanted to check out in the coming weeks. I’m hoping he likes Phantom and it encourages him to read more classics. Not because he or any other kid “should,” but because a lot of them are great books. (Some of them suck; let’s be honest.)

This boy was only mildly resistant to reading a romance novel, and that confirmed something I’ve noticed over the last month. Many of the boys want to read stories with strong romantic elements. They don’t because the covers often set them up for teasing from classmates–often the same classmates who want to read the same book. I had another boy check out one of the “clean romances” I bought with the girls in mind. He kept the cover turned over and hid it under his math homework. Still, every single boy in that class knew he checked it out.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on the drop-off in reading so typical in boys once they hit 4th grade. I even see it in Mikey and that kills me. I read somewhere that 17% of boys don’t want to be caught reading in front of their peers for fear of being seen as weak or nerdy. Imagine! Reading a book is a sign of weakness for boys.

I know this post is jumbled and goes from subject to subject, but I look at this 7th grade boy who confidently reads what he wants, when he wants and compare him to the boys who are too proud to check out a romance novel or to the 17% who don’t want to be seen with any book. I wish I could bottle whatever it is that makes him tick.

Library, Library

Mrs. Green

My 20th college reunion is this May, but I remember very, very little of my college experience. I don’t remember many people, professors, or classes. I have to reach deep to remember names, even with the professors and students I truly liked. Most of the time I draw a blank. I don’t know why this is, but my token excuse is that I had a serious college boyfriend all four years. Too serious, not good for me. I remember three friends from college, and one of them is planning the 20 year reunion.

The boyfriend excuse seems solid, because high school is equally a blur once I hit senior year, the year I was finally allowed to wear makeup and have a boyfriend. But, unlike college, I remember a lot of it and have loads of friends from high school–at least on Facebook. I planned our 20th high school reunion with one of my closest friends, and in doing that connected with people I was once too shy to even look in the eyes. If any of you think I’m a socially awkward hermit now…well. You don’t even know!

Elementary school is an entirely different story. People often cringe when I mention that I went to a Catholic school up until college. “I’m so sorry,” they say. They ask me if the uniforms bothered me, if the nuns beat me, if the priests attacked the children, if I always felt guilty, and if my education suffered.

No. No to all of it. I loved my Catholic school education. I loved that the uniforms made us all the same, down to the shoes, and took away the stress of fitting in. Nowadays, the kids express themselves with their shoes. You can tell a lot about a child’s socioeconomic status just by looking at their feet, but back then, we all wore Buster Brown Mary Janes or Oxfords. By the mid 80s we were super cool in our Keds.

The nuns, especially my principal, Sr. Celeste, were all wonderful. The priests were nice, but I was always too shy to pay them much attention and back then, they were much more formal. Confession was stressful, but mostly it was a time to place bets to see how many Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s John M. would get. Not enough, apparently, because I just spent 30 minutes Googling him and I think he’s in jail. These days, Mikey and Nico joke around with their school priests and I sometimes pick them up Starbucks. We text.

I never felt guilty about anything–though the Catholic guilt joke is fun–and my education was fine, thanks. Maybe I lucked out with my Catholic school? If so, I’m glad.

Unlike college and high school, I remember the teachers from elementary school. That’s my librarian, Mrs. Green, standing fourth from the left. She always wore dress suits with pumps and nude nylons. Always. There was sometimes a broach on her lapel. Her hair was blonde and wispy, and in my head I remember it tall, like a beehive, but I think it was just Aqua-Netted to a crispy finish. She was serious, somewhat stern, and never let us check out books above our reading level. Silence was absolutely golden. Her name was Mrs. Green but she always, and I mean always, wrote in a red pen. There are still cards in the library with her precise, Palmer Method cursive in red.

My 1st and 4th grade teacher were one and the same, which was great for me because she loved me to bits. My 3rd grade teacher taught us how to sing the alphabet backwards, which I can still do to this day. I consider that and my ability to raise one eyebrow my crowning achievements in life. My 5th grade teacher gave me a hug every morning because I was so anxious about school. My 7th grade teacher pushed me to work to my potential and my 8th grade teacher was the first one to ever say out loud what I would one day discover for myself: it’s possible to achieve at everything except maintaining a healthy weight. I don’t remember much about my 2nd grade teacher and I would not be surprised in the least if you told me my 6th grade teacher answered to the name Screwtape. Nothing is perfect.

Where to go

I went to the funeral of my kindergarten aide in January and wasn’t surprised to hear her two daughters were teachers. Teaching seems to be a career choice that passes through families like brown eyes or red hair. What surprised me is when the oldest daughter asked those of us who remembered their 1st teacher to stand. Everyone stood up, of course. She said, “You always remember your first teacher and your best teacher.” You remember your worst, too, but that’s besides the point. (Screwtape!)

That thought has stuck with me ever since. I remember my first teacher and I remember my best teacher and I remember my librarian with her teal knit dress suits, nude nylons, and ever-present red pen. When people ask me why I am willing to volunteer so much of my time and money to the school, I can admit that at least a little part of me wants to be remembered. The idea that I could make a small difference to even one child keeps me showing up. Well, that and the books. I doubt I’d be Super Volunteer if I was the lunch lady.

I’m shameless in my quest to insert myself in the memories of the kids. Remembering Mrs. Green’s red pens, I started asking the Mister to bring back tourist pens from everywhere he traveled. He has, and they’re what the kids use in the library. Dallas, Texas; Arizona; Denmark; New York; Las Vegas–and Monica recently sent me two from Germany! I have them out next to the globe (Target) and when the little ones check out their books I say, “Where do you want to go today?” and they pick a pen. Then, I have them look for the state/country on the globe. A lot of the kids pick Las Vegas, which kills me.

Years from now, a guy will tell his kids a cautionary tale about the librarian who loved books and kids more than anything–except gambling. She had a desk full of Las Vegas pens, so obviously she had a problem.

Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.