Thursday, February 21, 2013

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Looking for an absolutely mind-blowing book on the Underground Railroad? Did I mention that it is a true picture book--- as in wordless? Did I happen to tell you that the illustrations are some of the most attention-grabbing drawings I have seen in a long time?

I could go on and on, but you owe it to yourself to track this one down. Absolutely breathtaking. And just to make us want to know him more, author Henry Cole writes in his Author's Notes "...I wanted to tell-- or show---the courage of everyday people who were brave in quiet ways."

I often talk of the people I teach as brilliant. Doesn't matter if they are young kindergartners or graduate students. What matters is their brilliance, their amazing wisdom, presence, and grace as they maneuver learning. This Henry Cole was a teacher. I can imagine how brilliant he is through this text, as a learner, a writer, and a human. And brave.


Monday, February 11, 2013

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman

Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered by two homophobic men in Wyoming about 15 years ago. There is never a good time for a book about a young college student who is lured out of a bar, tied to a fence post in the middle of the country, beaten heartlessly, and left to die. The story makes my stomach turn just like it did when it first happened. AND I can't thank Leslea Newman enough for taking on this brutal story and crafting such a heartbreaking and direly important book.

Newman is well known for her work as an author, particularly in gay and lesbian lit circles. This time she seems to enter the work from a place of deep, painful wounding, from an obvious recognition of a tremendous wrongdoing and exquisite loss. Allow me to take you through my own experience as I read her writing...

At the library, upon seeing the cover, I immediately hoarded the copy into my arms. It was as if I didn't want anyone to take it from me, I needed to read it. I knew the story from newspapers and web stories, and I have witnessed the trials high-schoolers experience as districts and administration refuse to allow them to put on theatrical performances with Shepard's mutilating experience at the center. The gay issue simply and forcefully keeps snagging people; being a lesbian, I watch, listen, learn, question, wonder, read. At home, I stole away into the bedroom after making dinner, knowing I needed time alone. As dark descended into my room, my vision tunneled as I entered the graceful and painful words Newman creates here. I couldn't stop reading until the end.

With no answers and much, much pain, this story must be told. I am guessing that only Newman knew she had to write from such a heartbroken place of vulnerability. She writes like a mother reeling in the losses of a child. She creates voices of objects who witnessed what happened that awful night-- the fence post, the stars, the truck--  complete poems with their voices striking chords with compassion and clarity. It is as if she becomes those things, her writing so compelling to me I needed to hear her say more. So on I read.  And in doing so, she lifts Shepard up as a saint, cradling his loss with grace and kindness, tethering the harsh ways of the perpetrators with compunction that reminds us to find our breath again after moments like these.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Miracle by Elizabeth Scott

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you have likely noted that I like to read young adult lit with rather grim story lines. This one by Elizabeth Scott enters that category but in a unique way that caught me and wouldn't let me go.

Megan survives a plane crash. Being the only one who walked away from that awful experience, folks call her "a miracle." But she doesn't feel like a miracle; rather she feels like she should have died too. And the ghosts of those who died keep coming around and talking to her. Burdened with her fear and anger, she grows more and more isolated and loses trust for most everyone. But she starts realizing that the boy next door doesn't seem afraid of her teeming emotions, and better yet, he even seems to understand. He shows up at all hours of the night, much like Megan does, either out in the middle of town or on some country road albeit the dark of night, being out in it himself. And then there's the solitary adult who figures out what is going on and who patiently waits for Megan to be ready to settle a bit.

As a teen, I kept searching for folks like this, but I never allowed myself to settle and let them in. I appreciated the gentle grace that Scott brings to Miracle, allowing me as a reader to fall into a character's life in the way she does. Powerful writing, gritty and raw. And worth staying in the discomfort the character is experiencing.