Monday, November 12, 2012

Mainely Girls!

I am pleased and honored that THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE is a new addition to the Mainely Girls Middle School Reading List.

Mainely Girls is a non-profit organization in the state of Maine that was founded with a two-part mission: to work with rural communities to assist them in focusing on girls’ needs in a positive, preventative, and proactive manner; and to work on the state level to bring about positive change for girls.

It addresses issues of girls in rural areas by helping communities identify the specific needs of girls and young women in their areas and, in response to those needs, organize programs to improve the environment in which their girls grow to maturity.

Since 1996, Mainely Girls has administered numerous programs to make good things happen for girls.  One thing it does is set up A Girl’s Point of View Book Clubs across the state.  The clubs provide an opportunity for girls of all levels and abilities to read the best contemporary fiction that focuses on issues many girls are facing today.

Teachers and librarians from other states might appreciate this list of 43 titles.  Each novel features strong girls.  The lists of suggested titles include major award winners and some of the most talented authors writing today.  They include Cynthia Voigt, Lois Lowry, Karen Cushman, and Maine's own Cynthia Lord.  I am delighted that TENDING TO GRACE is also included on the list!

There is also a 4th and 5th grade list and a high school reading list.

For more information, contact

Saturday, November 3, 2012

An English teacher's dream!

High School teacher Kristin Russo recently wrote that TENDING TO GRACE is an English teacher's dream.

A statement like that will certainly make an author sit up and listen. Why is that? I asked. Here's what she said:

"As a teacher of Grade 9 English, I am required to follow a course of study with my students that includes reading and exploring a wide array of literary classics, including works by Steinbeck, Poe, Harper Lee, Shakespeare, and Homer, just to name a very few. The overall theme that is meant to tie these diverse works together in the freshman curriculum is “Journeys.”

Through the lens of a metaphorical journey, we explore literature, or as we call it “words as art,” looking for inspiration and examples of courageous personal evolution and growth. I have found that there is no better way to begin this literary journey with my students than by reading Kimberly Newton Fusco’s TENDING TO GRACE.

Fusco’s prose reads like poetry and every page has numerous, rich examples of the figurative language I try to teach my students to decode. They are thrilled when they finally understand how to use literary techniques to better understand a character or to figure out what is going to happen next.

My students notice through a close look at the food imagery in TENDING TO GRACE that the main character, Cornelia, eats more healthful foods when she goes to live with her aunt Agatha, symbolizing that she is better nourished and cared for her in her new home, even if she insists she is unhappy at first.

By following Fusco’s use of the “sock” imagery throughout the text, students not only better understand Cornelia’s loneliness and her wish to belong to a pair, but they also predict the likelihood that Cornelia is “finally going to get what she wants” when they notice her new teacher is wearing Christmas socks. The students learn to notice what they once considered to be unimportant details in a text and use them to better understand the characters and their stories. They apply this close reading technique throughout the school year as they tackle other books on the reading list.

As we near the end of the book, my students start to ask me what we’re going to read next. When I tell them, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is next, they ask me what it is about. I tell them to open TENDING TO GRACE and Cornelia will tell them what it is about. Cornelia happens to be very well read, and it tweaks my students’ interest that a number of the books on our list are mentioned in TENDING TO GRACE. My students come to love Cornelia and want to understand her better. That means reading the books that she has read, and luckily, they find nearly all of them in our Grade 9 curriculum."

After finishing TENDING TO GRACE, Mrs. Russo's students took a break for Halloween and read, Poe's, THE RAVEN. "The students didn't get the allusion to the poem when Cornelia says, "Nevermore" in TENDING TO GRACE and refuses to go back to the struggling reader class.

My lesson on Poe and his crazy poem was much better received, I think, because Cornelia knows about it, so it made my students more curious too."

Thank you, Mrs. Russo.  I believe teachers can change lives.  I know my high school English teacher changed mine.

If you'd like to know what Mrs. Russo's students think of TENDING TO GRACE, see the previous post!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Turning to stone is hard work!

Kristin Russo, an English teacher and writer, reads TENDING TO GRACE to her high school classes each year. She says the novel is an English teacher's dream. This year she asked if her Scituate, RI, students could write to me and discuss the book.

I said, "Sure!"

Here's what they had to say:

From Ed: I found your figurative language to be rather extraordinary, and it really hooked me in. "Only God’s perfect” foreshadows that mistakes will be made in the future. I love the way you show instead of tell, it makes the book more flowing and rhythmic. Your writing is very smooth and just takes me for a ride.

From Robert: In the beginning of the book you said that Cornelia curls up into a ball and pushes her feelings back into her toes and turns to stone. I really got the impression that she was forcing herself not to say anything and to show no emotion, like a stone.

From Abbie: When you wrote “They’re dandelions. They’re sending off their seeds, becomin’ something new. This is a lucky day, Cornelia.” To me this symbolizes Cornelia becoming something new.

Alisha wrote: I love it when she talks metaphorically about turning into a shadow. I can see her doing that. "I am a shadow. I burrow deeper within myself and pray that if the other kids don't see me, they won't talk to me. I pretend I am the desk, the book, the floor, and we all expect less of me each day. I try not to lose myself, but the shame of always looking at my feet beats me deeper and deeper into the earth, planting me as surely as my mother planted tulip bulbs one summer, face down." I adore the detail. I can see a woman planting tulips face down. I can see a girl looking at her feet.

From Lindsay: Thank you for using the carrots to describe how Cornelia feels. It helped me to understand that Cornelia feels like her mom doesn’t want her anymore. Cornelia is all upset when Agatha pulls the baby carrots out of the ground and throws them to the side. Then Cornelia sits there and replants them, hoping they will grow.

From Troy: I love how you used the metaphor, “Turning to stone is hard work.” That really shows me how Cornelia is acting to her family, and it helped me understand more about her mom. Also, Cornelia’s sock collection is really the only thing that Cornelia has. She has purple socks, Christmas socks, wool socks, and homemade socks. Every sock you could imagine...but with one sock missing, the pair is worthless. It's the same with family....

From Sydney: I LOVED how Agatha was planting the carrots and she had a pile of the throwaway carrots and Cornelia said, "I look at her throwaways and see myself." I thought that was super-creative and hinted about how Cornelia feels about her mom just dumping her.

And Gabby agreed: “I really like the way you used Cornelia ripping all the baby carrots out of the ground and she puts them all in a big pile and calls them the throwaways because that's what she feels like. We know Cornelia feels like this because her mom and her boyfriend just drop her off at her aunt's house, who she's never even met ...

From Taylor: Your use of figurative language helped me understand how Cornelia and Agatha's thoughts, feelings, and emotions change and/or stay the same throughout the book.

From Alexandria: “This is my old girl Esther,” is about Agatha's outhouse. I think you are trying to show that Agatha is a very lonesome person and she names non-human objects to make it seem like she has other people or company around her.

From Andrew: "A house with clapboards looser than old skin" foreshadows that Agatha's house is a dump.

From Jessica: I want to know if Cornelia ever becomes more comfortable with herself and if she is able to believe that other people are there for her. My honest opinion is that if she can't accept herself, she’ll never believe anyone else can.

From Maria: The way you describe Cornelia's life had such on impact on me. It feels as if Cornelia is a real girl stuck living a life like this. What I never expected was that a teacher would tell her that she should be in an honor's class.

Several students discussed the turning to stone metaphor, including Brendan, Ryan, and Andrew. Shea said that the stone metaphor helped show what Cornelia has to do in order to keep her anger inside. "This shows that Cornelia doesn't want the attention that she could be getting ..." Caitlyn said, "The way you use figurative language and imagery to describe the characters is why I find this book so interesting." Holly said, "The style of writing in this book is very enrapturing, it keeps me wondering what will happen next."

Jamie liked the part where Cornelia doesn't like Yodels: "That really showed that her taste buds had grown up, and that she had grown up a little quickly." Jenna liked the way the barn was described with "the dry smell of crushed hay." Kyra said that when Cornelia asks Agatha, “Why d-d-d-don't we leave them where they are?” it helped her to see that you can point something out to your audience, without directly telling them.

Hannah said: While I was reading the book I really wanted to know that Cornelia would be okay and that she would go to Vegas and have a wonderful life. I held onto that. Then I realized that Agatha and Cornelia can probably fix each other.

And boy did I love what Robert had to say: "I can already tell that this is going to be a great book that will somehow change the way I look at things."

Tomorrow I will blog about what it is like to teach TENDING TO GRACE, from their teacher's perspective.

Thanks everybody!