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Book Reviews, Commentary, Uncategorized

Favorite Books of 2016

2016 was a tough year in many ways, but (for me) it was a great year for books. I read 39 according to Goodreads, and here are my top favorites:

I can’t begin to describe how much I loved this book. I’ve gifted it twice, and will continue to. I sobbed, I smiled, I reflected on all the ways we don’t appreciate the beauty and fragility of life. A billion stars.

 

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As a lifelong Catholic, this book rocked my world. Literally. I have a totally new understanding of the gospels and the interpretation of the New Testament. Fascinating on every level.

 

Dystopia is not my genre, but this book got so many rave reviews that I couldn’t pass it up. Clever and insightful and very well done. I loved the writing style– just beautiful.

 

Usually when a book gets as much hype as The Girls does, I find myself disappointed. This book was just beyond fantastic for me, from the phenomenal writing to the really nuanced story that was just enough historical and just enough fiction. I loved it.

 

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is crushing, and deeply difficult to read. But in a year of being obsessed with the musical Hamilton, and with all the complexities of that time and the very troubled history of our nation, this book is beyond important and was a real eye-opener for me.

 

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Base on the feedback from Goodreads, I get the sense that there are two types of people: those who find compassion for the parents/perpetrators of violence, and those who don’t. There is very little wiggle room with A Mother’s Reckoning— she puts it all out there. What she knew, what she didn’t know, what she wished she knew about her son and the Columbine tragedy. As a mother and an educator, this book will stay with me for a long time.

 

On my Christmas wishlist was the complete set of Harry Potter– and I got it! I have lots of reading to do, and will get started right after Grief is a Thing with Feathers, which is haunting and beautiful, too.  I’ll be recommending it to all the poets in my life!

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Indie Books, Indie Gifts!

Who wants a gift card to Barnes and Noble when you can buy these awesome books, signed, directly from the seller?

For the job-seeker, business owner, networking professional:

Fearless Follow-Up, by Soma Datta

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You can purchase the book here and use the discount code 8FJN2RG7 to get $3 off the book!

 

For the YA lover and part time political junkie:

’89 Walls, by Katie Pierson

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Purchase the book on Katie’s website, and she’ll sign and ship for free!

 

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Events!

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Next Friday, several local authors and I will be headed to Addendum Books in St. Paul to sign books and recommend summer reads for kids. Please come by!

And then…

The following Friday, June 10th, I’ll be signing books at Barnes and Noble in Maple Grove as part of their B-Fest Teen Book Festival.  Here’s the info!

 

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Uncategorized

Teaching Advice From LB

A dear friend and former colleague passed away yesterday.  We were on the same “team” for a year, he as the History teacher and me as the English teacher. I am a huge proponent of team teaching– when done right it can make a world of difference to both the students and the teachers.  I was lucky to be on Larry’s team for many reasons, not the least of which being that when my students came to me from his classroom they were pumped, excited about school, and generally on a high from being in Larry’s classroom.  Here are a few pieces of wisdom I gained from my friend, and I pass them on in his memory:

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1. Call the parents.  Often.

I have never taught in a classroom where I had a direct phone line.  This made email communication much easier for me.  I also preferred email so I could have written documentation of my correspondence with parents.  Larry didn’t see it that way.  Sure, he would email, but he carved time out of his day often to sneak out of his room and call the parents of his students.  Not just the “bad” ones.  The good ones.  The average ones.  He connected with parents far more personally that way, and taught me to do the same.

2.  Bring treats.  Weird ones.

Usually when teachers bring “treats” to early morning team meetings, they bring something easy.  Donuts. Bagels. Not Larry.  He brought smoked oysters and crackers the first time he was slated to bring treats for our team.  I think he was pretty pleased with himself, thinking that there would just be more for him since no one would partake with him, but he underestimated me.  In fact, I loved the smoked oysters and requested them every time it was his turn to bring treats.

3.  Get kids moving.  

My classroom was next to Larry’s, and if you are a teacher you know that the walls between classrooms can be veeeery thin.  For me, they were so thin that I often could hear Larry blasting his music, history films, or just his voice.  I knew when his kids were moving desks, working on projects, getting up and about and moving.  And it was always for the better.  His energy was infectious.

4.  Do what works for you.

Our school had a really nice district website and tool for teachers to create their own websites.  I struggled with getting mine up and running, since I wasn’t used to the interface and was used to Blogger.  I voiced that to Larry once and he said, “Why are you using that if you know how to use Blogger?”  It was such a simple question.  He used Blogger because it worked best for him.  Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.

5.  Appreciate, appreciate.  

Larry raved about his family constantly.  He spoke up for what he believed in and never backed down from his opinion.  I will always remember him as being supportive of his friends and colleagues.  I trusted him, and I know he trusted me.  I will miss his antics and sense of humor (one of my last memories of him is of him running up to me in the school parking lot to tell me I was waddling- I was nine months pregnant).  Life is so very short and precious.  Appreciate it, all of it.  Especially the teachers among you.

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“Why We Ink” Book Launch

I’m woefully behind on blogging and am finally getting to post about one of the highlights of June– the Why We Ink book launch.

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(Photo courtesy Eye Love Photo)

Open Book in downtown Minneapolis hosted this incredible event, featuring food from Pimento Jamaican Kitchen (YUM!!!) and readings from many of the writers featured in the book.

When I first published with Wise Ink last year, I felt like I was becoming a part of something much bigger than just my book.  How right I was.  When Dara approached me about helping her make Why We Ink happen, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.  Being a part of this project has given me so much joy, and I am so honored to have been a part of it.

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(Me and the incomparable Dara of Wise Ink, photo by Eye Love Photo)

If you can support this project, please purchase a book (or two) here!

The Indie Journey, Uncategorized

Five Things I Learned from my Book Launch

I did it!  This guy is launched and shipping!

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The launch itself was amazing, truly. I am so, so lucky to have had such support from Magers and Quinn, along with family and friends and an unbelievable community of book-lovers.

I was a bit of a fish out of water in the whole launch-planning process.  Book writing is one thing, party-planning is quite another. I actually resisted the launch for a long time, since being the center of attention is not something I’m very good at.  So here are my tips for other writers planning their launch:

1.  Parter with an amazing bookstore

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There was no better feeling than being in a fantastic space such as Magers and Quinn, surrounded by books and book-lovers, when you’re standing up there giving a speech about the writing process.  I know many authors have had great launches at restaurants or in their homes (and they likely make more money from book sales), but for me that wasn’t the point.  Magers and Quinn’s belief in my book helped with my own belief in the book.

2.  Keep it simple

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This is a picture of the refreshment table (Thank you, Costco.).  I toyed with the idea of doing more lavish food, but ended up glad for this simple display.  My biggest expense were the monogrammed napkins and the custom-designed “guest book” printable:

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3.  Open it up; pay it forward. 

When I found out that Magers and Quinn was going to host the launch and I realized what a platform this was going to give for me as a writer, I felt strongly that I had to “pay it forward”.  What is the point of having all that attention if you can’t help someone else in the process? So I contacted Edina A Better Chance, which does amazing work in our community, and offered the director a chance to talk about her program.  And because of that, she got to meet some educators in the audience as well as all the wonderful people at Magers and Quinn.  Win, win, win.

4.  Share the spotlight.

If you are the type of writer who shuns the spotlight like I do, I cannot recommend this highly enough.  I spoke for a few minutes about the book, but the majority of the event was to showcase other talented kids in the community.  This serves many purposes, not the least of which to get many more people in the audience than you might have not otherwise had.  It was such a joy to have young readers get a chance to shine in front of a crowd.

This is a poster board presented by a very talented 4th grade car designer.
This is a poster board presented by a very talented 4th grade car designer.

5.  Define Success

I find it dangerous to measure success in dollars, particularly as an independent writer.  Sure, making money is nice.  It is a goal.  But it doesn’t define success. For me, it was this moment:

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This is my daughter, holding my book.  Being a part of the launch, of watching her mom’s dream come true.  You just cannot put a price on that.

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, Uncategorized

Win an Advanced Copy of The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High by Roseanne Cheng

The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

by Roseanne Cheng

Giveaway ends October 26, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Uncategorized

Banned Books and Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is facing scrutiny.  I hesitate to use the word “banned”, because it is not, in fact, being “banned”.  It is being removed from curriculum.  There is a big, big difference.

 

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At the risk of making some enemies, I have to say this:  I get it.  I do.  I have nothing against Alexie, and I think he is a powerful and much, much needed voice for our young people.  I think his books, including this one, are pretty good.  But this book, like many of his books, deal with very mature themes.  VERY mature. Do our kids “get” this content all the time?  Sure.  But to me, that is hardly an argument for teaching it.

 

I was given one of Alexie’s books to teach a group of high school seniors awhile back.  I was put off for a couple reasons:  One, I think Alexie’s writing style isn’t challenging enough for seniors, and two, the book had been chosen not for its content but for the “diversity” it (and Alexie) represented.  Again, I liked the book.  It had nothing to do with “liking” the book.  It had everything to do with the fact that my kids’ first response after the first chapter was, “Geez, that’s a lot of F words.”

 

So we spent some time talking about voice and style, and I tried my best to pretend that of all the books in the world to teach kids about identity and responsibility and consequence, that this was the best one to teach.  But it was difficult knowing that there were so many other books out there, maybe ones that don’t fill a Native American fiction requirement, but ones that would challenge my kids in a much more “literary” way, ones that would lend themselves so much better to persuasive essays and structured debate.

 

Of course there are many other elements to this story, such as the influence of the small minority of parents in schools and the need for more diverse curriculum.  But as a teacher and now as a parent, I have to say that I get the hesitation to include this book in curriculum.  I  support finding something equally inspiring and less off-putting for parents, teachers, and students alike.