Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Down Under Calling

I reviewed a book by Margot Finke recently. Then I read another of her books, so I want to share that one with you here.

The title is Down Under Calling and its a good one.

Andy is a bit jealous of his friend, Kelly, who gets all sorts of new video games and other expensive stuff from her grandparents while his family is broke. Then he starts communicating by snail mail with his grandmother in Australia and everything changes.

He and Kelly start trying things similar to what Grandma Rose tells him she did in her childhood Down Under and, as a result, their friendship deepens and they both learn to appreciate the world around them.

The relationship between the kids and the old woman grows. Too bad they can't meet her in person...or can they?

Kids who read this book will learn a lot about Australia, but that never interferes with the plot. And kids aren't the only ones who will like the book. I'm a grandma and I enjoyed being reminded of my own childhood and the differences between the environment where I grew up and that in Australia.

Margot Finke has written a book both kids and adults will like.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why I Worry

Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a worry wart. I tend to worry a lot.

Some people have told me that's a sin because it shows that I lack faith. (Of course passing judgement on others is also a sin, but we won't get into that.) Others say worrying is a psychological problem. Some folks think it's the result of having a creative mind or an innate personality trait, while others have told me it's perfectly normal and everyone does it.

In my case, I think it's at least partly something I was taught to do.

When I was six years old my father died.  My mother had never lived without parents or her husband to care for her. She was afraid she wouldn't be able to support and care for her kids and kept telling me about her fears. Even after she managed to find a job, and through most of my childhood, she would tell me over and over again about our financial problems and other things that scared her.

What if ...? What if ...? What if ...?

In other words, she taught me to worry.

I don't want to bad-mouth my mother. Being a single parent was extremely difficult back then when there was no welfare, no before and after school child-care, women couldn't get well-paying jobs. and single parent households were rare.

Today there are far more single parents than existed in the past, and I hope people raising kids alone - or even in two-parent households - don't tell their children all their fears.  Of course it's important to be honest with children and sometimes parents have to explain that they can't afford certain things or that a family member is seriously ill.

But I hope parents will be careful about what they share with their children and emphasize things that are hopeful.

The world doesn't need more worry-warts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Revenge of Thelma Hill

"The Ghost of Thelma Hill, one brittle hand clamped onto Frannie's ankle, slowly dragged herself out of the grave."

Doesn't that sound scary?

Margot Finke has written a classical-style ghost story for middle grade readers. It combines the scaryness with an exciting plot about characters kids will identify with.

And Thelma Hill, while spooky, isn't the villain, but Frannie, with help from her friend, Jeff, has to find out who is.

And that turns out to be much more dangerous than a ghost.

I don't want to give the plot away, but I think lots of kids will love reading this book.

The author told me,"As I wrote this I discovered I was modeling the ghost after my mum.  Kinda channeling her. . . So I went whole hog and put her name in the title as well.  I know she would be thrilled to be a main character in this book"

Here's more information about Margot Finke:
Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband, children, and grandchildren.  Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between her writing.
She didn't begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, "I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes! "
Margot has 13 published books, and Survival by Walkabout, the follow-up to Taconi and Claude, has just hit the bookshelves. Margot also does Skype Author Visits to many schools in the US, and she runs a Manuscript Critique Service. Nothing gives Margot a bigger thrill than to hear that a book she helped polish has been published.  “This is always a huge YEA moment.”
Amazon ( Kindle and soft cover) :
Hook Kids on Reading:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The other day I substitute taught in a first grade class and asked the kids what they knew about Martin Luther King, Jr. Several of the boys thought he might be a famous athlete but the rest of the class had no idea who he was.

When I explained about the racial discrimination that had existed back in the 1960s all of them, including those of minority races, were amazed and horrified. They couldn't believe things had been like that.

Well, that's good and bad.

It's good that things have changed so much those children hadn't seen the kind of discrimination that people once had to endure. But it's bad that they didn't appreciate what it had taken to change our society.

Yes, I know some discrimination and prejudice still exist, but it's not nearly as big a problem as it once was. And that's because of Dr. King and all the other courageous people who took major risks to stand up for what they believed was right.

I assume the teacher in the class where I worked today plans to tell her students about why they had Monday off from school when she returns. (She was very sick.)  It's extremely important for the younger generation to learn the importance of standing up for what is right even when it's dangerous to do so. Someday they may need to do the same thing themselves.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Life or Death?

Lately the girl considered brain dead by doctors but alive by her parents has been in the news a lot. So, is the girl dead or alive?

A century ago that conflict couldn't have happened. Everyone agreed that when someone stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating they were dead. Machines to keep those body parts functioning didn't exist.

One of my college Linguistics professors said when studying a language if you come to a term people can't define you know it's one of the most basic concepts of the culture. Today in our culture we can't agree on the definitions of some of the most basic terms.

What is a human being?

What is a marriage?

What is the difference between life and death?

And, as the world keeps changing so will our concepts.

Okay, here comes my creative, writer's mind. Beware!

What if, in the future, people who "die" not only have their hearts, lungs, and nutrition continue by machines, but their brains are remotely controlled so they can function almost normally? Will those people be alive? Will they still be humans? Or will the world be taken over by zombies?

What do you think might happen?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why I Teach

A few years ago I came back from retirement and became a substitute teacher. I'd done that for quite a while in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as teaching preschoolers for years. And I taught Kindergarten and First Grade in private schools and was an Instructional Counselor at California School for the Deaf.

I've never made a lot of money at any of these jobs, but somehow I keep getting back into educating

Of course that's partly because I enjoy kids. But it's also because, as with writing, I believe it's a way to help make the world a better place.

Even if I'm only in a specific classroom for one day, it's possible that something I say or do will help a child. Sometimes I'll say something in a different way than the usual teacher and a kid will "get" a concept he or she struggled with before.

And working with the same kids over an extended period of time can do a lot to influence them.

I'll never know if any of the kids I've worked with did or will grow up to live differently or make a certain choice because of my influence, but I hope I have made a difference to at least a few of them. And the combined influence of me and all their other teachers has certainly impacted the lives of many children.

And perhaps some of those kids will go on to influence others as a result and will make an even bigger difference in the world.

Has anything your teachers said or did had a lasting influence on you?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Keri is Cute, Cute, Cute

Award winning author, Karen Wiesner, has written a cute book about cuteness. And I must say the illustrations by Molly M Courtright are also cute.

In Keri is Cute, Cute, Cute we see that ever since she was a baby Keri has been told over and over again by her parents and everyone else that she is cute. She revels in that praise.

But one day she's confronted by a friend of her brother who asks what she can do and she realizes being cute isn't as important as being able to accomplish something.

Finally she helps another child and realizes that she does have a talent that matters more than how she looks.

This book will help kids understand that appearance isn't everything. And maybe some of the parents who read it to their children will also benefit from that lesson.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Water Rationing

California had a very dry year in 2013 and, unless we get quite a bit of rain soon, a drought may be declared. If that happens we'll be required to ration water.

Too bad all the extra snow back East can't be shipped out here, but that would be a bit difficult.

Several decades ago there was a drought here and water was rationed here. We had a "mother-in-law unit" that was rented to a woman who insisted she and her son had to take daily baths. That meant my family could only bathe once a week to avoid high fines, though we did take sponge baths in between.

We were happy when she moved out and we got a more cooperative tenant.

But a hundred years ago, before everyone had indoor plumbing, many people only bathed once a week. In many cases the water was heated on the stove and poured into a large tub. Then the same water was used by each member of the family, beginning with the father and ending with the youngest child.

I'm glad I live today!

How often do you think it's necessary to bathe in order to be healthy?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Bell

When my father was a boy he was sent to a small town the Appalachian mountains to avoid the epidemic of Spanish Influenza. His little sister was too young to go to school, so my grandparents figured it was safe for her to stay at home.

My father spent a year there living with his grandparents and aunt. She was also his teacher in the one-room schoolhouse he attended.

Finally the epidemic was over and it was considered safe for him to return home. When he left, Aunt Bessie gave him the bell she had used for calling children to class. (Perhaps the school got a new bell on the roof so that one wasn't needed anymore.)

When I was a kid that bell sat on a shelf in our living room and we were not allowed to ring it except once a year. On New Year's Eve my brother and I would be allowed to stay up until midnight, step outside the front door, and take turns ringing the old school bell to welcome in the new year.

I still have the bell, but I no longer use it on New Year's Eve to disturb my neighbors at midnight. At my age I'd rather go to bed.