Katherine Center’s newest novel What You Wish For is fast-paced, engaging, and whimsical. Even though it deals with heavy topics, Center manages to share the message that choosing joy in the midst of difficult and painful times will help you heal.
Samantha Casey is a school librarian. She has been in Galveston, Texas for only a couple of years, but in this short time she has managed to carve out a life that makes her happy. Sam loves her job, the kids that come to visit her in the library, and her school family. Her new school fits the new Sam: colorful, fun, engaging, and full of personality. After disaster strikes the school, Sam finds herself floundering. The new school year has been thrown into chaos, but with the hiring of Duncan Carpenter, Sam is hopeful that the school will begin to heal.
Sam knows Duncan. Well, she knew the old Duncan. The new Duncan is rigid. He lives by rules and regulations. He believes that he needs to upgrade the school because the way it is now is only asking for bad things to happen. The old Duncan did not care about rules. He was the cool teacher, the one who juggled, wore funny clothes, and advocated for anything and everything fun. Sam had the biggest crush on lovable old Duncan, but the old Sam was too timid. She has changed so much in just a couple years and is hopeful that she can turn Duncan back into the fun-loving man she remembered from before.
Sam and Duncan couldn’t be more different now. Duncan only wants to protect the school even if that means that he has to destroy it. Desperate to save the school, Sam and some other teachers work to remind Duncan of the joy he used to feel. While helping Duncan remember who he used to be, Sam finds herself wanting to know him again.
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Katherine Heiny’s novel doesn’t fit into a neat box. It starts out as a rom com; it’s a fairly predictable pairing of two attractive, charming people, surrounded by their eccentric friends.
Jane and Duncan meet, have a relationship of sorts, and break up, which isn’t fatal to HEA (Happily Ever After). However, the book begins to take a darker, messier turn. This is when it really starts to get unpredictable and much more interesting. Jane, a grade school teacher in a small Michigan town, gets some of what she wanted but not necessarily in the way she wanted.
A highlight is Heiny’s skill in capturing kids and adults with delightfully brief character sketches or with telling anecdotes. I looked forward to the work life passages, and the insight into the second- grade mind. Boyne City is populated with quirky residents and Heiny has fun with the dynamics of rural life.
It turns out that, perhaps, the most pivotal relationship of Jane’s life is with Jimmy Jellico. He’s a sweet and naive man who nominally works for Duncan in his workshop. Jimmy has always had difficulty understanding how to navigate in the world, and hasn’t mastered even the most basic of adulting skills. Jane becomes more and more involved in Jimmy’s daily life, and despairs that he’ll ever find a love of his own. Jane’s friends, family and co-workers are very imperfect, as is Jane, but they evolve and create a fascinating community.
Have you ever been to a renaissance faire? I spent quite a few summers growing up going to the local faire with my family. I was fascinated that there were people who made this their life for the whole summer, but had other lives outside of the faire. Faires serve as ways to experience the past, but with the knowledge that you can go back to your regular present life!
Well Met by Jen DeLuca takes the concept of past vs. present and runs with it. Willow Creek, Maryland is a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Trying to keep anything quiet can be pretty difficult, but there are charms to living in such a small area. Emily is having a hard time seeing the positives, but she’s working on it. Emily moved her entire life to Willow Creek to help her sister recover from a bad accident. Being dropped into this new life, she works hard to alleviate any stress on her sister by making lists to navigate her new life. Instead of working two jobs, Emily spends her days running her sister to appointments and chauffeuring her niece around.
Driving her niece to the high school one day, Emily soon finds herself volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire so that her niece can participate. Emily bumps into Simon, an irritating schoolteacher who is in charge of the volunteers. While they don’t initially get along, Emily is forced to keep working with Simon since the faire is a huge part of his family. The faire is very important to Simon and Emily’s joking approach to the whole experience, plus her insistence that some aspects of faire should change, only further work to irk and anger Simon.
Once faire begins however, Simon slips into a new persona. Gone is the stuffy English teacher and in his place lives a completely new, and likeable, person. This new Simon flirts openly with Emily as she works at the tavern in her revealing wench outfit. The drastic difference between the two confuses Emily. Is the attraction she’s feeling towards Simon at the faire real? Or is it just part of their characters, the part of faire that Simon is always telling them that they need to portray?
Emily is more confused than ever as she works to figure out what she is going to do after the summer is over and her sister has recovered from her accident. She was only supposed to stay in Willow Creek until her sister recovered, but the more time she spends in the community, and the more she gets to know Simon, the more Emily is thinking that she might want to make a permanent home in Willow Creek. But should she? What about Simon? Where will she stay? Will everyone in Willow Creek grow to accept her?
How is your reading going this month? Have you found something good, or are you still searching? If you’re short on time, here are a couple of movie suggestions that fit into our Education theme!
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark with Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. Remember? Indiana is a professor of archaeology! Granted, there aren’t a lot of classroom/professor scenes but nevertheless, beyond the bullwhip and fedora and deathly fear of snakes, he was a teacher. It does beg the question though – how come none of my college professors looked like Harrison Ford?
Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams. When a new English professor shakes up the established teaching curriculum at a strict boarding school he changes the lives of his students forever. A homage to the beloved teachers that do so much to inspire and motivate us.
Mr Hollands Opus starring Richard Dreyfuss. A frustrated composer learns that his true calling is teaching others and his legacy becomes not a piece of music but the generations of students he has taught.
Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon. Blonde and beautiful does not equal dumb and unmotivated. When El is dumped by her boyfriend, she follows him to law school where she finds out that she has a brilliant legal mind and that she doesn’t need a loser boyfriend to succeed. Fun and light.
Have you ever been a class mom? These women(or men) serve as the teacher’s right hand person and handle a lot of the grunt work. My mom was a class mom multiple times for both myself and my younger siblings. I remember her organizing parties, meeting with teachers, volunteering in my classrooms, and organizing events for me all throughout school. She was always busy and I thought she pulled everything together effortlessly. When I was looking for a new book to read and saw Class Mom by Laurie Gelman in the catalog, I decided to give it a try because I was feeling nostalgic about all the work that my mom put in to my classrooms when I was younger.
Class Mom by Laurie Gelman is a hilarious romp into the life of Jen Dixon. Jen is married to Ron, who she continuously refers to as her ‘first husband’ much to his annoyance. Jen and Ron have an adorable five-year-old son named Max who is just starting kindergarten. Jen is not new to the school system as she has two older daughters, by two different men, who are now in college. Jen had a lively youth following bands around the country and the world. Her two daughters were born as a result of her carefree younger days. Jen raised her two daughters with some help from her parents and when she met Ron, her life seemed to fall together pretty perfectly.
Now that Max is starting kindergarten, Jen finds herself being prodded into becoming class mom for Max’s class. Nina, the PTA president and Jen’s best friend, keeps telling Jen that the new parents have a lot to learn from Jen’s expertise and experience. Jen thinks that’s all baloney and it’s just because she’s older than the other parents that Nina is asking her to be class mom. Regardless of those factors, Jen soon finds herself as the class mom to Ms. Ward’s new class of kindergarteners!
Jen’s tenure as class mom is full of hilarity, snarkiness, offensive, and uproariously funny emails and interactions. She holds nothing back in her emails to the other class parents and is sure to note specific response times to her requests. Jen is responsible for assigning conference times, finding field-trip volunteers, and doing whatever the teacher Ms. Ward wants her to do. She soon finds herself as the middle-man between Ms. Ward and the other class parents. The interactions between Jen and everyone at Max’s school are ripe with hilarity from Max’s supersexy kindergarten teacher who has a very odd way of running her classroom, an old flame of Jen’s popping up as one of the parents of another student, a mother whose son is severely allergic to almost everything, and two moms who Jen can never seem to tell apart! Outside of Jen’s interactions at Max’s school, Jen herself is struggling to get in shape to do a mud run to make up for last year’s disastrous attempt, trying to figure out what’s going on with her two older daughters, and working to keep her relationship solid with her husband. This book was very entertaining. Definitely recommended.
If you have ever felt like the words you speak are falling on deaf ears, you may want to check out How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
The book is addressed to parents, mostly, but I have found the suggestions presented are useful in many other contexts, too. Teachers will no doubt find them useful, as well as anyone who wants to work on their communication skills or has ever had to deal with difficult people.
The authors learned many of their principles of effective communication from their teacher, Dr. Haim Ginnott, of Columbia University. They went on to hone their approach over many years through their experiences as parents and teachers.
The following principles are taken from Dr. Ginnott’s approach:
- Never deny or ignore a [person’s] feelings.
- Only behavior is treated as unacceptable, not the [person].
- Depersonalize negative interactions by mentioning only the problem. “I see a [broken lightbulb].”
- Attach rules to things, e.g., “[People] are not for hitting.”
- Dependence breeds hostility. Let [people] do for themselves what they can.
- Limit criticism to a specific event—don’t say “never”, “always”, as in: “You never listen,” “You always manage to break things”, etc.
- Refrain from using words that you would not want [anyone] to repeat.
- Ignore irrelevant behavior.
The book presents these ideas using amusing vignettes of common scenarios and how best to handle them. If you like this book, you may also be interested in the following by the same authors:
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children
Between Brothers & Sisters: A Celebration of Life’s Most Enduring Relationship
How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk
It’s August. It’s BACK-TO-SCHOOL time! Perhaps you’ve been busy shopping for new clothes for the kids or trying to cross items off those very specific school supply lists. While you’re out and about, stop by the library and check out some of these titles:
Schools of Fish: Welcome Back to the Reason You Became an Educator by Philip Strand, John Christensen and Andy Halper. This fun, attractively arranged book can help any teacher, new or experienced, approach the school year with enthusiasm.
Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Home Schooling by Brad Miser. Not everyone opts for the traditional school setting. If you’re interested in teaching the kids yourself at home, this book can get you started on the right track.
What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. There is a whole series of these books, known as the Core Knowledge series, covering first through sixth grade. Though written in the 90’s, these books, based upon the cultural literacy concept, have not gone out of style. They make a good, quick review for parents. Who knows, the adults might just learn something new! 372.19 Wha
Freedom Writers. If you prefer watching versus reading, try this inspirational DVD featuring Hilary Swank, based upon a true story of a teacher and her 150 students “who used writing to change themselves and the world around them.”
And don’t forget to check the Davenport Community Schools’ website for information on current events, academic calendars and the latest news about your school.