Posts tagged ‘high school’

October 18, 2012

What if someone ELSE could tell your teen it’s going to be okay?

Title: Dear Teen Me
Editors: E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally
Genre: Nonfiction
Age: Upper Middle and High School

Want a great book to read with your teens? Instead of having YOU tell them that things will get better, that they will grow up, that it IS possible to learn from what seem like totally awful life-ending experiences, they can hear it in this book from some of their favorite YA authors. These letters, which the authors wrote to their teen selves, are honest, funny, devastating, and ultimately redeeming. This is a great book for any family that reads together. And if your teen will tolerate it, tell them what you would tell your own teen self if you had the chance. But be honest. Teens can smell a liar faster than a vampire can sniff out a pretty girl.

One author writes about finding a knife in the toolshed. At first she’s surprised there is no blood, then she’s surprised by her parents’ reactions. Ilsa Bick, author of Draw the Dark and Ashes, turns this abrupt and powerful memory from her childhood into an equally powerful lesson for kids today about the mistake her parents were making and how she (and her readers) can learn a different lesson than the one that was being taught to her at the time.

Mark Bieschke, who is the managing editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and author of The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens writes about the night the stole his mom’s car to sneak to a tiny Detroit nightclub. “That night is going to change your life. And no, it’s not because on your way back you make an illegal left-hand turn into the police chief’s personal car…”

Embarrasing moments have their role of course. Geoff Herbach (author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special) starts his letter with “Humiliation and hilarity are closely linked, my little friend. Don’t lie there in bed, your guts churning, as you replay the terrible scene. I’m glad your shirt stuck to the floor.” He then recounts a hilarious break-dancing-gone-bad story. He ends his essay with these wise words: “Don’t beat yourself up, okay? Just relax. Keep dancing by the highway, you splendid little dork.”

Stacey Jay, who wrote Juliet Immortal and Romeo Redeemed, tells it straight. “Misery is misery. I wish I could say that the world will be shiny and wonderful when you’re grown up, but I can’t, because it won’t.” But she does talk about how things get better, and how the really strong friendships that she had as a teenager save her life and then some. She asks her teen self to give them a hug. “From both of us.”

Laura Ellen gives her teenage self some devastating news about the future of her eyesight. But she also has advice on how to stand up to herself when others won’t. And she ends with this always-applicable advice “P.S. PLEASE stop pretending you don’t know the answers in math class! It’s okay to be smarter than the boys. Really. They’ll get over it.” Laua Ellen’s first book, which comes from her experience with legal blindness, has just been released. It’s a teen thriller called Blind Spot.

This is one for the adults too. You’ll find yourself reminiscing about your own funny or awkward or painful or humiliating pasts. Okay, so maybe it’s not for everyone. 🙂

If you had to write a letter to your own teen self, what would you say? Tell me in the comments. 

February 20, 2012

Girls in the math and sciences

Why are girls in America still falling behind in the sciences and choosing scientific careers so much less often than men? I look at some of these issues in an article published recently in Northstate Parent.

To read more articles I’ve published, check out this list here.

February 6, 2012

Procrastinate much?

I remember the first time procrastination caught up with me in a big way. 7th grade. Native American Indian paper. A late night. Two not very happy and tired parents.

I remember this night, and give you some advice in case you see this tendency in your own children, in an article published in Northstate Parent.

If you want to read other articles I’ve published, check out this page.

January 30, 2012

what if you had to die again and again? and again…

I don’t really have a good parenting story for this book because I have toddler boys instead of teenage girls (says a small prayer of thanks). Toddler boys have their issues, but high school popularity contests, alcohol, sex, and suicide are not among them. I realize that’s a lot of weighty issues, but don’t let them turn you away from this book. Its’s weighty, but not in a preachy way. And not in an over-the-top way. Just in a very real, very honest way. It’s a very good story with very good writing, which at the end of the day, is a great way to spend some time.

Title: Before I fall
Author:
 Lauren Oliver
Genre: Fiction
Age: High School or Upper Middle School (but the topics are definitely high school rated)

After not really liking the first chapter (I was thinking, is anyone really THIS shallow?), I got into the book until it had such a hold on me I couldn’t put it down even though the baby has been keeping me up and I really needed to sleep. Here’s my two cents, and I think this would be a GREAT book for any teenage girl and her mom to read together. Even if you are at the point in your relationship where this main character is and you don’t talk much, just the shared reading experience would be great. As a mom (or a dad!) you would be sending the message to your daughter, that yes, you are up for topics like this, that you are willing to read about them and even talk about them, that you were a teenager once, too.

(Although please do not ask your child to read it and then give them any high-road morality lectures about alcohol or driving or sex. Trust me, the book speaks for itself. That is the beauty of it. If you have a close relationship with your kid, treasure that and talk to them about the characters, their lives, and their decisions. Let your teen lead the way with the discussion. Don’t push it.)

This book is really well-written. Told from the point of view of a popular high school girl who dies in a car crash and has to relive her last day over and over, it’s a beautiful story about life and the way we live it. It’s a great story about the lessons we learn along the way, by one girl who learned those lessons way too late. I was a little worried it was going to be too predictable–she starts out so shallow and obviously she is going to learn, change. But it wasn’t like that at all. For one, she learns lessons in a really honest, believable way. For two, what seems so shallow at first is explained so well in later chapters that depth is added to her character and she becomes so alive. Which is only somewhat ironic, given that she’s dead.

I think teenage girls would really relate to this book, even if they’ve never stepped into the popular circle or touched a cup of beer to their lips. This book is about growing up. It’s about finding out what’s important. It’s about the changes we make on purpose and the ones we don’t realize we’ve made until they are already a part of us. It really makes you think about how you live your life. In a good way.

From a parent perspective, here are two of my favorite observations, which you could talk about (or not) with your kids:

For page references purposes, I had a library-bound hardcover.

Page 225: It’s the weirdest thing. I’m popular–really popular–but I don’t have that many friends. What’s even weirder is that it’s the first time I’ve noticed.

Page 194: Here’s one of the things I learned that morning: if you cross a line and nothing happens, the line loses meaning. It’s like that old riddle about a tree falling in a forest and whether it makes a sound if there’s no one around to hear it. / You keep drawing a line farther and farther away, crossing it every time. That’s how people end up stepping off the edge of the earth. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to bust out of orbit, to spin out to a place where no one can touch you.

That second passage is a really good reminder for parents. It can be so hard to draw that line–and once drawn, to keep its meaning. When I worked as a principal, I saw so many parents struggling with it. But it’s so important, and this is why. Kids WANT that line, they crave that line, even if they could never, ever express it for themselves. I used to tell parents that, and they wouldn’t always believe me.

I remember hearing an NPR interview a long time ago with a woman who had once worked as a dominatrix. I don’t remember what she had turned herself into that landed her later on NPR, as that was likely less interesting. But this is exactly what she was talking about. She said she never had any boundaries growing up. So she just kept pushing and pushing, looking for the walls. She tried alcohol, she tried drugs, she tried stripping, and she just kept going. Unfortunately, I never found a polite way to share that story with parents, but I wish I could have–if that didn’t make them give their kids some boundaries, I don’t know what would. This book, might, though.

January 23, 2012

mambo your way into the soul of a good poem

I love my sister. AND (As a teacher writing comments about kids a lot I was taught never to say BUT in situations like this) :), my memories of her learning to play the violin are not pleasant ones. Which is why I vowed that I would never let my children learn to play a stringed instrument until I had a soundproof room in my house. Which is probably why my 3yo (because can’t all 3yo’s read straight into your soul’s deepest fears?) decided that the violin was exactly what he wanted to play.

We are a few months into our lessons and a few stanzas into Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And let me say this: every time his bow screeches across the strings, twinkle-starring its way through notes both sharp and flat, maybe some at the same time, I smile with pure happiness. Yes, I am that much of a sucker.

Music gets us where it counts. We use it to get us through the work day. We use it when running, to make us go faster. We use it to calm down. We use it to express our love when dancing. It touches every part of our lives and that’s why this book is so good. Just listen to how it begins:

On summer nights
Papi lets me help out
at the music store.

Papi says you can
read people’s souls
by the music
they listen to;
that hearts
fly home
when the music’s
Just Right.

Title: Under the Mambo Moon
Author: Julia Durango
Illustrator: Fabricio VandenBroeck
Genre: Poetry, Fiction
Age: Middle School, High School, Any, really

Summary and ideas: In this book, characters come and go from a record store as music from all over Latin America is played and remembered. Read this book with a record player nearby. (Okay, the internet will do.) Read the book through once and then the second time you read it, play a song every time one kind of music is played. Dance to it. If you really want to embrace the book, learn to dance the different dances. You don’t have to take a formal class; I’m sure YouTube will come through for you. Or if you are reading this with a class or an older child who likes to be challenged, have them write a copycat poem but with their favorite kind of music instead. Mimicking great writers can be a great learning opportunity.

And then tell me: what strong musical memories do you have?

August 18, 2011

high school is hard and here are THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

When I think about teasing in school, there are two incidents that come to mind immediately. The first one was 4th grade, when I got glasses. I was SO excited about my glasses and a girl called me “four-eyes”. She was my friend and I think she was just trying to tease me and say something funny. I took it as a compliment. My teacher took it as an insult, though, and talked to her about it. I thought that was ridiculous.

About two years later, I was in the middle school girls’ bathroom when two more girls came rushing in. One was in tears. Sobbing hysterically; I thought someone might have died. When I figured out what was wrong, though, it turned out that one of the boys had called her flat-chested–I forget the terminology he used, but he got the point across. I had no idea how to respond. I really, really, had no idea why she was upset. Because one of the boys said her boobs were small? Really?

That should give you a good picture of me. That’s the nerd I was in middle school (yeah, right, like I’ve changed…)  :), and let me tell you, there are a lot of advantages to traveling socially-unaware through middle and high school in between the cliques and the put-downs.

This book is about someone who wasn’t as lucky. This is about someone who travels right in the middle of the social circles, who tries hard to fit in and who gets trampled on again and again. This is about someone who couldn’t take it anymore. Specifically, it’s about a girl who kills herself and leaves behind a set of tapes explaining why.

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age:  Young Adult, 13 and up

Summary and Review:

Now, nothing is wrong. 🙂 I’m not sure why I’m writing about two books about death right in a row (see my last post about the wonderful story each little bird that sings), but that’s just what I picked up recently. I’ve actually been avoiding this book for awhile now but saw it at a bookstore and decided it was time to read it. It sounds horribly depressing, but it isn’t. And even though the main character and one of the two narrator voices is actually dead (she killed herself before the book begins), it isn’t really about death. It’s more about high school and how we treat each other in high school.

The book is told from the point of view of a boy, one of the thirteen recipients of the tapes. He finds the tapes on his doorstep one day and starts listening. In horror, he realizes the voice he hears is of a girl he knew, a girl he was almost friends with, a girl he wished he had been closer to, narrating her experiences in high school as he walks along the paths she used to walk and visits the sites she used to visit.  He hears about the boy she kissed, the rumors about her that weren’t true, the way she was treated by her peers.

If you are at all interested in YA literature, you’ve heard of this book. It’s as good and as important a book as people say it is. It should be required reading for anyone who has anything to do with high school–especially the teachers who might not remember as acutely as the kids just how much the little stuff hurts.

I do wish I got to know the two main characters a little bit more, but I also liked that I could fill in some of the blanks about their personalities myself. And while I’ve heard others say that the girl who killed herself doesn’t leave a lot of room for sympathy, I disagree.  Yes, she is bitter. Yes, she sounds condescending. But I’m sorry–she’s a teenager, and a depressed, suicidal teenager at that. She’s not beyond blame–that isn’t the point of the story. She’s just the one that couldn’t handle it. The fact that you might not like her only adds to the story–the others didn’t like her much either, but they should have treated her with more respect. It’s a powerful page-turner, and I highly recommend it.

As a mother, I really liked the way the author brought the boys’ mother into the picture. He is clearly a good kid, and she trusts him, but she knows he is lying about what he is up to tonight and whether or not he is okay. But she gives him his space, she allows him to do what he needs to do–miss dinner, stay out late, and listen to the tapes–all without knowing what is going on. And he trusts her enough to ask her to bring him the tapes, even though he knows she will know something is wrong. The malt that he drinks at her suggestion meant so much to me, thinking about my own son in the future, going through a tough time, not able to tell me about it, but able to trust me enough to bring me into the picture for a bit, and to have a milkshake in my honor.

I think this book is an important read for all of us, whether we’ve been there or not. It’s great for high school students to understand the effects of their actions. It’s great for teachers and parents to understand the gravity of the situations their children might be facing–at times adults can trivialize the problems of youth–read this and you will never do that again.

March 14, 2011

Eating your way through high school

In a world of flashing television screens and internet news that comes before the actual event is finished, the subtle is often overlooked.  Which is why SCBWI’s Sid Fleischman Humor Award is so refreshing.  SCBWI is a horrid acronym that stands for the “Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators”.  The Sid Fleishman Humor Award honors the author of the same name, known for books that were both humorous and poignant.  My latest read was the 2010 winner, and I definitely understand why.  It’s not funny-ha-ha, or LOL funny, but it’s definitely a funny book.  A really well-written funny book with a strong, character with a great humorous tone and a good message for its readers.  So thank you SCBWI for honoring this book so that we would all know about it, and thank you Allen Zadoff, for writing it in the first place.

Title: Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have
Author: Allen Zadoff
Genre: Fiction
Age: Middle School and High School (book takes place in a High School)

Summary and Review:

Andy is an overweight–read really overweight–sophomore who doesn’t see a lot of upsides to his life.  His dad ignores him while his mom, a caterer who tries to get him to eat less (while getting his skinny sister to eat more), overprotects him.  His best friend is his model UN partner and he is picked on, shoved, or overlooked by most of the rest of the school.  Until he is not.

One day he does the impossible–makes friends with the star football player and, on what seems like a whim, tries out for the football team.  He starts living the high school equivalent of the high life–with parties, girls, and football player friends.  But just when you are about to put the book down because it all seems so unreasonable, the dreams begin to unravel.  There’s his mom, who never signed the permission slip for him to play and yanks him off the team when she finds out.  There’s the girl he loves but might be dating someone else.  And there’s the football players he thought were his friends.  But are they?

The book is at once sweet, funny, and a rich portrayal of high school.  At its heart, it’s a book about being true to who you really are.

Follow-up with the kids:

This book strings you along for quite some time in the fantasy-like atmosphere of the popular realm.  I think it would be great to talk to your kids when they are still being strung along, talk about the changes that Andy makes when he joins the football team and why they’ve been good or bad for him.  And then find out if they still feel that way in the end.  My guess is that a lot of teens and preteens who read this book won’t necessarily love the ending.  They might not understand the decisions that Andy makes.  Having that conversation with them would be an important step in understanding who your child is, where they fit into the crazy social strata of high school, and what hopes and dreams they might be harboring–dreams that might show them more heartbreak than happiness if they were to really come true.  Andy is a great character who gives us a fun ride through his high school days.  He’s a fun guy to spend time with, an as a result, so is this book.

October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo: DO try this at home!

No, this isn’t a book review, but it’s directly tied to parenting, books, and writing, which is all I’m thinking about these days.  November (which is VERY soon!) beings NaNoWriMo, which, for those not in the know, is National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve wanted to try this for awhile, but alas, this is not the year for me.  While I think it can be good to put down something you’re working on and trying something new for awhile, I need to finish the first draft of the book I’m on.

HOWEVER, it might be for you–or for your kid!  They have a young writer’s NaNoWriMo as well, and you can find it here: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/.  If you have a middle school or high school-age kid that loves writing, they might enjoy this challenge.  It sounds like a lot: 50,000 words in one month?  But that is the whole point, and it is certainly doable.  Of course, you are sacrificing some quality, but that’s also the point, to get kids writing, to get them to see their ideas (both good and bad) in print and to get past those demons that stop you and make you edit so much along the way that you never finish what you are doing.  Of course, editing is good.  And that is something that you can never pound into a kid’s head enough times.  But in this case, at least, editing waits.  At least until December.

————————————————————————————————-

Tips for doing this with a student or child:

– Don’t start with a blank page–start with a list of questions.  Here are some examples:

MAIN IDEA

– What kind of book do you want to write (adventure, scifi, romance, realistic fiction about school or life, etc.)?

CHARACTERS

– Think of three characters who will be in your book.  One should be a main character.  The others can be friends, parents, teachers, pets, enemies, friends-who-turn-into-enemies, enemies-who-turn-into-friends, etc.

– Give your characters names.  I think this makes them easier to visualize and helps you refer to them. I love looking at baby-naming websites to help me with this.  You can search for popular names or rare ones, for boy or girl names, for names from different countries of the world for international characters.

– For each character, think about who they are.  What do they like to do in their free time?  Do they like school?  Do they have friends?  Do they get along with their parents?  What is their biggest wish in life (this might be the plot)?  What are they really good at and what are they really bad at?

SETTING

– Where will the story (or at least the first scene) take place?  In a house? Bedroom?  School?  Sports field?  Dark forest?  Other planet?  Write down a few descriptors of what it looks like.

WRITE!

– At some point, you just start writing.  Visualize your main character and talk about what he or she is doing.  And then see what they want to do from there.  Often, they will tell you.  DO NOT worry if you don’t know what the story will be or if you don’t know the ending–that will come organically.

– When you get stuck, check out the young writer’s NaNoWriMo site (linked above) for help!

– Recognize that it’s meant to be fun (although challenging).  Don’t worry when the novel sounds terrible (it WILL; you are writing 50,000 words in one month!), and don’t worry when you get stuck.  Just write.  Hang your word count somewhere prominent in the house so that you know just how much you’ve done!

And when your classmates whine about the next 1,000-word essay they have to write, laugh in their face!

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In honor of NaNoWriMo (although not as an official participant since I’m not following the rules), I’ve decided to try to write 50,000 words of my current book in the month.  That should give me a finished first draft, if one that needs a lot of editing.  But I’ve done a TON of editing on the first half of the book, and I won’t have anything to edit for the second half if I don’t write all those terrible sentences in the first place!  In fact, I might finish before 50,000 words, but since I delete two or three for every one that I write, I’m not really worried about ending up with too many!

So wish me luck!  And if you DO try this at home, have fun!

October 19, 2010

Is that your organ or mine? A compelling dystopia with cloning, slavery, drugs, and other things we bring upon ourselves

I had to read this novel.  It was for school.  I was about to assign it to my kids, 7th graders, for a dystopia project, on the advice of a librarian, so I needed to read it first.  What an awesome assignment!  I loved it.  It’s a page-turner.  It’s adventurous.  It’s emotional.  It makes you think about where the world today is going.  All things I love when I am reading a great book.  And it’s why I think young adult and children’s books are often so much better than adult books.  Wasn’t it the author of The Golden Compass who said that you can deal with so much more in a kid’s book?  Well, this book is a great example of that.

Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Genre
: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Age: Middle School and High School and lots of Adults

Summary and Review:

The main character, Matt, is a clone.  He lives in the country of Opium, between the United States and another fictional country of this dystopic future.  In his society, clones are created and their minds altered with at birth so that they have none of their own emotions or thoughts.  They are treated like animals, or worse.  But Matt is a special kind of clone.  He is a clone of the country’s dictator, who demands that his brain be kept intact.  But this isn’t a gesture of good will–the dictator will kill Matt when the time is right, because Matt exists to keep the dictator’s life eternal–when he needs a new organ, Matt will be there ready, as have many clones in the past.

Matt must first understand that he is not a human at least as far as others see him, and then relearn his humanity with the help of a few caring souls.  He does eventually escape his horrible fate in his own country, but only to join a fate as a child slave laborer in the next one.  The book is full of issues that mirror today’s society, and this, combined with likable characters and a compelling narrative, makes it a great read.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

A lot of kids have trouble understanding what a “clone” is.  They know the term mostly from science fiction stories and snippets they hear, mostly out-of-context in the news, and so they don’t really get the full story.  As a result, I found some kids would read this book and have trouble understanding why a clone wouldn’t be treated differently.  So this is an important starting place for a conversation.  Make sure your child knows what it means to be a clone.  Basically, that the DNA is taken from one individual, put into an embryo, and a baby develops.  That baby is no different from any other baby, whose DNA happened to come from two individuals via an egg and sperm, but some students have a hard time understanding that.  Sometimes I relate the issue to identical twins.  Clones are no more alike than identical twins–in other words, they will probably look like the person they are cloned from, and probably have some similarities, but they will be their own person.  Getting kids to fully understand the implications that Matt is fully human is an important first step to understanding this book.  (After all, in today’s society, many children start out as “test tube” babies, and this, while different and controversial in whole new ways, is, from the point of view of the kid who is born, very much the same.)

Older middle school students and high school students can relate this to stem cell research as well.  I don’t think there are many people out there who would argue that it’s okay to “grow” a human being and then kill it for your own purposes–that’s the equivalent of saying we should be able to do anything we wanted with our own children.  However, there is a debate about what it’s appropriate to do with embryos that are created in the process of trying to help someone get pregnant and one their way to be destroyed.  Should scientists first be able to research on them for the good of those already alive, or is that wrong, since they have the “potential” to become human life?  Or should we not be allowed to create such things in the first place?  Books like this can help students wrap their heads around issues that otherwise seem too big or too irrelevant for them to understand.

If your child is reading this book, I would highly recommend reading it with them.  It will help you identify issues that are most important to you and your child and help direct a conversation even further.  Plus, it’s a great read.

September 10, 2010

A girl among the stars

Title: Stargirl
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Genre
: Fiction
Age: 12 and up

Summary and Review:

This book will remind you of being in high school.  If you are in high school, it will illuminate some of the toughest things about high school.  The self-named and formerly home-schooled Stargirl is the new kid in class and everybody notices her.  How could they not?  She gets out her ukulele in the cafeteria and sings, even sings Happy Birthday to kids she doesn’t know.  She has a pet rat in her shoulder bag, and puts a vase of flowers on her desk in every class she goes to.  The story is a typical high school one, but not very typically told.  She is first avoided, then popularized (even made a cheerleader), later worshipped and copied (ukuleles appear on campus, for example), and then, suddenly and inexplicably (but predictably) shunned.  Given the worst silent treatment a campus could plan.

There are many things that make this a great book, but one of them is the unusual point of view from which the story is told.  We never get to see Stargirl’s feelings or thoughts–we can, like the rest of the confused high school students, only guess them.  Instead, the story is told from the point of view of a boy, and a popular one at that.  He becomes a love interest in the story and watching the battle of popularity through his eyes gives the novel such a refreshingly honest perspective.  We see this absolutely ordinary teenager struggle with his desire to be with this usual girl and yet his (even greater?) desire to be accepted by the mainstream.  The hypocrisy of the narrator’s feelings are played against the hypocrisy of the student body and serves to brilliantly remind us of our own hypocrisies.  I appreciate any book that can point out my flaws in such a beautifully, readable way.

The story of Stargirl is hard to put down; you are immediately wrapped up in the characters and their lives, hoping they will make the right decision and knowing from your own life experience that they might not.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Read the book.  You’ll be glad you did; it’s enjoyable and reminiscable, even if the latter is technically not a word.  That will give you most of what you need to know to talk to your kids.  Well, daughters, really, because let’s be honest, male narrator or not, this is mostly a girl book.  If only because the only boys who will read it are avid readers, and unfortunately there are not many of those at the young adult level.  Sigh.

But if you are stuck about what to talk about, or haven’t read the book, ask your daughter if she knows anyone like that at school and what she thinks.  How were they treated?  Did your daughter have any kind of relationship with them?  Maybe your daughter was more like Stargirl than the others.  Or maybe your daughter has been in a position like the narrator–caught between friendships that cross the traditional boundaries of social groups.  Maybe she knows what it’s like to have to make a decision like that.  At some point, don’t we all make those kinds of decisions all of them time?  Didn’t you?

If you have a reluctant talker, make the issue about people outside of your daughter’s immediate circle of friends.  Or discuss issues from a couple of grades ago–you’ll still get the point across, but your daughter won’t feel like you are probing into a private area she doesn’t want to discuss right now.