Month: December 2021

Where Reasons End

I’d started this novel by award-winning Yiyun Li at least five times since it was published in 2019. I finally sat down with it, reading once through and then again to take notes, in early December. The story takes place in some alternate reality called “aftertime” where a mother converses with her brilliant and funny sixteen-year-old son who’s recently died by suicide. He still calls her Mommy, like he did when he was alive. He was a musician, an avid reader, storyteller, poet, and a phenomenal baker.  Li writes with a quiet, persistent steadiness. The following passage is one of the many I pulled from this novel because it spoke to the ruminating thoughts of the past, the abrupt end of the future together, and then wove in the reality of time moving forward. Throughout the book, I pictured my son talking with me in the very same way Nikolai did with his mother. Yiyun Li is a MacCarthur Fellow. See the genius at work here: There is no rule against anything, including settling into too empty a space, he said. Makes you feel organized. Emptiness is different from unclutteredness, I said. Clutter up then, he said. Clutter, clatter, clot, cluster. None of the words, I thought, would release me from the void left by him. You’ll settle in sooner or later, even if it’s against your wish, he said. Li’s older son, Vincent, died by suicide at age sixteen in 2017.  Here’s a review by Troy Onyango: The Language…

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I just finished reading the brilliant middle-grade debut, George, by Alex Gino with my sixth graders this winter. The novel is about George embracing her identity as Melissa. The book layers in so much about friendship, fear, and family relationships.  Even though George is in fourth grade, students acknowledged the material wasn’t condescending or babyish. They found the gendered structure of George’s school and the examples of toxic masculinity accurately portrayed in the story. Gino uses E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web like a unifying tapestry, weaving the various students, teachers, and their families together in this tale of acceptance. A student working on her English language skills read George independently, wrote a review, and then presented that write-up to the class. She was proud of herself for reading the entire book without a translator. She suggested I read the novel aloud for an all-class read. I agreed. Using the Sora reading app, I projected the story on a screen to share with the students. George is part of Scholastic’s Gold Line, joining a list of award-winning titles like Esperanza Rising, Rules, and Freak the Mighty. The book will be reissued as Melissa in 2022. As a writer, I am both dismayed and heartened by the fact that Gino’s journey from first draft to final publication took TWELVE years!! Since I love cross-curricular programming, reading and discussing George fell in line with a wider school discussion about identity during a recent all-school meeting. Our Equity & Inclusion Coordinator walked students and their…

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Turkey Term

We are in that funky period post-Thanksgiving break and pre-Winter Break at NCS. The English Department Chairperson refers to these two and a half weeks as Turkey Term. In sixth grade, we’re working on poetry. I introduce the lesson with a slideshow about common elements and vocabulary for appreciating poetry along with examples of poems by young people. This mistake couplet by my younger son, and crafted when he was ten or eleven, is one of the poems I feature in the slideshow:     I went to the store to get a box, I made a mistake… and got small-pox. I went to the Moon to find a crater, I made a mistake… and found a gator. I went to Georgia to eat a peach, I made a mistake… and ate a leech. I went to Hollywood to find fame, I made a mistake… and found a game. I went to Russia to find my Babushka, I made a mistake… and found some trashlushka.  

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