I am a reading teacher at a K-6 school, and most of the reading I do is to be informed of the next great book I can share with my students to excite tI am a reading teacher at a K-6 school, and most of the reading I do is to be informed of the next great book I can share with my students to excite them and bring them closer to that point where they experience the joy of reading as I do. I do read some "adult" books, as I belong to two book discussion groups, and usually when se decide upon a memoir, I approach it with great trepidation, as I usually don't like them. Too many just seem full of whiney adults complaining about their upbringing and trying to blame those in their life for the road they went down, or are self promoting, and we're all supposed to stand and cheer and be so amazed that this person pulled themselves up out of the mire and made something so incredible of their lives. Seldom do memoirs make me think or ask questions. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis did.
I don't usually stand by with a pencil to mark up my books or leave sticky notes throughout them, but I found I had to. You might say it was because I knew that I was going to discuss this book with others, but mostly because statements J.D. Vance made, or statistics he quoted made me wonder or alarmed me or puzzled me. I'm not going to list them all here, as there are too many.
As I read this book though, I kept seeing it through different eyes. First were the eyes of the teacher I am today in the school I am in today. Schools are seeing a rise in students who have experienced intense trauma in their life, or ACEs - adverse childhood experiences - (listed on page 226 of the book), and as explained, these traumas lead far into adulthood. I am one of the fortunate ones who can say I have never experienced any of these traumas in my life, but I know of a certainty many of the students I work with have. So I'm left asking myself, "How do I help those students even more than what I do now?" I also look through the eyes of the teacher I was years ago, when I worked in a private Christian school outside of the city of Hartford, CT. Our ministry reached into many of the projects, where drug deals were held right outside their doors. I am not stereotyping, I know this because until they got to know my car, every time I went to pick up some of these students or their parents for church or school, I would be surrounded by several men, all ready with the goods if I was there to score. Vance draws many comparisons between the hillbillies of Appalachia to the blacks and hispanics, and he was correct in many of his assumptions. I knew one woman who was heading to sign her son up for public housing the day he turned 16 because you had to get on a waiting list. She had no hope he would ever be able to become a successful contributing member of society, but expected that as she was, and her own parents before her, and their parents before that, and so on, he'd need to live on welfare. I knew children whose father was sober and a God-fearing member of the church one day, and then would be missing for days, having gone off and scored some drugs because someone paid him for a job he did. This man's son, a first grader in my class, came to school one Monday after he and his friends had found a man hanging in a tree over the weekend.
Finally, I read this book through the eyes of 6, then 10, then 13, then 16, then 20 year old Carol Owen. My family was not wealthy in any way. My parents both worked full time jobs. I was the fifth of six children and my mom and dad did all they could to give us what we needed. There were many more in my class who were wealthier than my family, but there were also those that were poorer. But in those days, I never really thought about that. Education was important, but we were never demanded to get all As and Bs, although I did try (and succeeded occasionally). My oldest brother went to college, although he did not finish, as his plan to become a professional baseball player was taking off and lead him to go play on a team in Canada. My other three brothers had no interest in college, but then I went and then my sister after me. It wasn't the education that made us who we are today, though, it was more the example we received from my parents and grandparents before them. They embodied the set of mores described in the book as "old-fashioned, quietly faithful, self-reliant and hardworking." Unfortunately, there are too many that fall into the second category today - those that are increasingly consumerist, isolated, angry and distrustful.
This book was toted as the book that would explain how Donald Trump got elected. Yes, it does that, but please don't read it just for that purpose. If you're reading this review on the Vermont Council or Reading FB page, you're likely reading it as a teacher, so read this book with your teacher eyes. We are dealing with kids in crisis. We've all seen it - those kids who look panicked as the school bus pulls away before a vacation because they know the one stable element in their life is going to be missing for x number of days. They don't have to be Appalachian hillbillies, they are Vermont children, children who have been victims of divorce, have parents who are alcoholics or drug users, children who have been abused, or witnessed abuse, children who have been yelled at or sworn at or deal with depression on a daily basis, children who have to fend for themselves, figuring out what might be in the cupboard or fridge that they can fill their empty bellies with. And whatever you do, don't just glance over page 244. Take hope in J.D. Vance's words, "the most important lesson of my life is not that society failed to provide me with opportunities. My elementary and middle schools were entirely adequate, staffed with teachers who did everything they could to reach me. Our high school ranked near the bottom of Ohio's schools, but that had little to do with the staff and much to do with the students."
So I guess my big take away is that these are difficult times. We have work to do. Let's do it....more
This is the kind of book that you read and names of a dozen people cross your minds - those demons who have to ruin the end of a book you have yet toThis is the kind of book that you read and names of a dozen people cross your minds - those demons who have to ruin the end of a book you have yet to finish. I can't wait until next year when I'll use this book to teach students how NOT to give book talks, but also for those students who feel they just have to ruin the ending for everyone else. You know who you are!...more
I am always intrigued about where authors get ideas like this to write about. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is about a man of no given name, whose jobI am always intrigued about where authors get ideas like this to write about. The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is about a man of no given name, whose job it is to watch the ocean for bottles with messages, and then deliver those messages to their intended. But The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is stumped when a bottle comes that has no forwarding address. Although the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is otherwise unnamed, we are given impressive descriptions of not only his appearance, but his thoughts, that make him seem very real and very likable: "Truth be told, each time he opened a bottle, a part of him hoped to see his own name winking from the top of the page. But then he remembered that this was about as likely as finding a mermaid's toenail on the beach. For he had no name. He had no friends. He stank of seaweed and salt and fishermen's feet. No one would ever write him a letter." As far as picture books goes, this is one that I would save for my older students, as I don't think younger students would understand the beauty of it....more
I am an avid fan of Patricia Polacco, with a shelf full of her many picture books. However, this one wasn't a real favorite. Maybe it was the disappoiI am an avid fan of Patricia Polacco, with a shelf full of her many picture books. However, this one wasn't a real favorite. Maybe it was the disappointment that the book wasn't based on real life, as most of Polacco's books are. The story is believable - Annie, a woman who feels everything good happens on Thursdays - her marriage, the birth of her children, the opening of her restaurant, and more. Her life is filled with joy and happiness, running a successful restaurant where everyone from near and far loves her Poke Salad. When her husband dies, however, her despair bleeds into her cooking, and patrons stop coming. It's not until a little kitten appears on her porch in a towel embroidered with the word Thursday, that sunshine returns to her life and the restaurant is reopened with a surprise guest stopping by. ...more
Where do writers get their ideas for stories? This book is a great introduction of how to generate ideas in the Writing Workshop. As a writer is stuckWhere do writers get their ideas for stories? This book is a great introduction of how to generate ideas in the Writing Workshop. As a writer is stuck for an idea, she decides to take her dog, Wednesday for a walk. Along the way what she sees and thinks about about are catalysts for some ideas when he returns home. I absolutely loved the artwork in this book - the mixture of medias used throughout....more
Shy loves to read and her favorite topic is reading about birds. But when a bird appears in real life, does Shy have the courage to leave her hiding pShy loves to read and her favorite topic is reading about birds. But when a bird appears in real life, does Shy have the courage to leave her hiding place to follow it?...more
The first day of school is coming, but it's not the children who are excited, it's school. He has no idea what to expect, as he is a new school and haThe first day of school is coming, but it's not the children who are excited, it's school. He has no idea what to expect, as he is a new school and has never experienced the likes of children before. He only knows a special day is coming because his friend, Janitor, has explained about this special day. When the day arrives School finds out all the purposes of the nooks and cubbies he has, but also notices there are some children who are less than happy to be there. He also learns that there is a lot for him to learn, lessons he's never heard, and he can't wait until future days arrive....more
TISSUE ALERT! TISSUE ALERT! What a sweet, story of two polar bears who used to live in Central Park. Ida and Gus were inseparable, spending all of theTISSUE ALERT! TISSUE ALERT! What a sweet, story of two polar bears who used to live in Central Park. Ida and Gus were inseparable, spending all of their waking moments together. Even when Gus wished he could venture out into the city to see more of life, Ida teaches him that he can hear the city's heartbeat right where they are. Life is beautiful, but one day Ida doesn't come out of her cave to play, and Gus is told that she is sick, and that she will get weaker and weaker and eventually die. Gus doesn't want to believe this, but he learned to understand there was nothing he could do but help comfort her and make her happy during her final days. This would be a great book to introduce to school counselors who have to deal with students who may be dealing with grief, because it has a lesson to learn - that even when our loved ones die, they are always with us in our memories and in spirit. ...more