Finding Langston

Dear Reader,

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt misunderstood by those who love you? Have you ever found hope in unexpected places? Then you know how the main character feels in this outstanding novel for readers 9 years old and up. Told in present tense from the first person point of view, the sentences come alive with the cadence of the main character’s Southern speech. If you like stories by Patricia MacLachlan, you will love this 104-page novel. 

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Finding Langston. New York: Holiday House, 2018.

After the death of his mother in 1946, eleven-year-old Langston moves with his father from Alabama to Chicago. Living in a lonely apartment building and bullied at school, Langston finds refuge in the school library where he discovers the magical poetry of Langston Hughes.

More stories of moving

More stories about bullying

More stories set in the past

More stories about people of African heritage

Poetry by Langston Hughes

A post about the power of poetry

Happy reading!

Ms. R. 

Defiance

Dear Reader,

What are signs that you are growing up? That you are starting to leave childhood behind and starting to become a young adult? It can’t be that you merely want to make decisions for yourself. Two-year-olds want to make decisions for themselves. It can’t be that you secretly do things your parents forbid. Most children of all ages at least occasionally disobey their parents. So how does thinking for yourself and making your own decisions show maturity rather than mere selfishness?

Hobbs, Valerie. Defiance. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005. 

Eleven-year-old Toby wants to have fun. His parents want to protect him from any possible danger. Toby has cancer. His mother wants him to stay close to their cabin in the country, out of the sun and away from anything that could cause him to get hurt or even tired. He wants to go exploring. So he does. He wakes up early in the morning, sneaks off on his bicycle, and meets an elderly neighbour, Pearl, and her old cow, Blossom. They become friends and life changes for Toby.This story is about growing up, about learning to think for yourself without thinking only about yourself. 

The reading level of this book is not difficult. There are only 117 pages and the lines on each page are spaced far enough apart to be easy on the eyes. But there is a lot to ponder in this story. So don’t read it when you are in the mood for a quickly-paced humorous story. Read it when you have the time to slow down and consider this question: What is the meaning of life?

Ms. R.

More stories of thinking for yourself

More stories set in rural areas

More stories of summer vacations

“Life is simple.”

MacLachlan, Patricia. Just Dance. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017.
Ten-year-old Sylvie and eight-year-old Nate live on a farm in Wyoming with their father – a cowboy with a love of poetry- and their mother – a former opera singer who now sings in the shower. Sylvie worries. Does her mother miss her glamorous life travelling the world? Might she leave them all and return to life on the stage?  Sylvie worries and thinks about love and writes poems about local events. And finally realizes that what seems ordinary is precious. An easy-to-read reflective novel that will encourage conversation. Highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.

More stories about country life

More novels for younger readers

More stories about music and musicians

Out to Sea

Lear, Edward. The Owl and the Pussycat. London: Puffin, 2014.
This lusciously nonsensical poem was first published in 1871. Charlotte Voake beautifully illustrates it in pen and ink and watercolour. The layout of the pages and the size and style of the font enhance the romantic mood. Highly recommended for all ages.

Amazon.ca 

More memorable poems HERE.

More picture books for artists HERE.

Celebrating Life

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” – Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist

Maclachlan, Patricia. The Poet’s Dog. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016.
Are we really loved? Will will be remembered when we’re gone? Who will save us when we’re lost?
This short easy-to-read novel told from the point of view of an Irish wolfhound portrays the abiding bond between people and animals. It demonstrates the power of poetry and the mysterious connections that carry us through hardships. A philosophical novella highly recommended for readers and listeners 6 years old and up. [Blizzards; Brothers and sisters; Dogs Grief; Human-animal relationships; Loss (Psychological); Poets]

More dog stories HERE 

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back.” – Plato, Greek philosopher

Remembering

Poetry often seems obscure, so dense with meaning that reading it feels like a being in a dark fog. So it is not surprising that many students feel a sense of relief when high school poetry classes end and real life begins.

I am a teacher and, for me, poetry is real life. Nevertheless, in my eighth-grade Humanities classes, we don’t spend a lot of time analyzing poems. We talk about them, decipher difficult words, and notice some literary techniques. Mostly, we read them aloud. Over and over. Until finally, in groups, students stand and recite by heart.

The first poem of the year is usually ‘Walkers with the Dawn’ by Langston Hughes:

Being walkers with the dawn and morning,
Walkers with the sun and morning,
We are not afraid of night,
Nor days of gloom,
Nor darkness —
Being walkers with the sun and morning.

Later, we learn ‘My Heart Soars’ by Chief Dan George:

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars.

Tears of happiness often fill my eyes when I hear students reciting poems. I am filled with awe, listening to them learn great works of literature that have held people together from one generation to another. Sometimes, while waiting to be dismissed, students recite just for the fun of watching me cry. One year, a few students – while waiting in attendance rows for gym class to begin – spontaneously started reciting ‘No Man is an Island’ by John Donne. Soon, almost 60 of them were loudly reciting in unison. When they were finished, they smiled at me and started again:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Poetry has helped me through hard times in life and I’ve trusted that it would help my students, as well. This week, after a thirteen-year-old girl was killed by an intruder in one of the local high schools, I got an e-mail from a former student:

“As you have heard Abbotsford Senior has experienced tragedy on Tuesday. What you may not know is that I had the unfortunate privilege of administering first aid on the second victim, which saved her life. I email you because I wish to thank you for a poem you made me memorize in the eighth grade, 4 years ago. Not only has it stuck with me as my favourite piece of poetry…, but it has really helped me accept what happened. The poem is by John Donne and it is called “No Man is an Island”…. Thanks again for this poem, and I would like to assure you that I am doing okay,…. Just so you are aware, I give you permission to use this as an example for the importance of poetry.”

I was humbled by this young man who found strength and peace from remembering a poem written almost 400 years ago. This time, my tears were the bittersweet ones that come from seeing children turn into adults. They were the quiet tears that come from seeing people cope with the pain of life through the power of poetry.

We don’t have to always analyze poems. Just learn them. Keep them safely in our hearts. They will help carry us through life.

 

Gratitude

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Enormous Smallness

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)…

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings, American poet (1894-1962)

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who gave his life fighting Nazism during World War 2

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus, ancient Greek philosopher 

Click HERE for Thanksgiving books for young readers. 

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” – Meister Eckhart, medieval German theologian

Glory

Burgess, Matthew. Enormous Smallness: a Story of e.e. cummings. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2015.

Carlstrom, Nancy White. Glory. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2001.