Love Letter to America

Dear America,

Love can save us.  Trust me, I know.

My childhood was not a lovely one.  I was the youngest, and therefore the most helpless, child of a very broken family.  Alcoholism, domestic violence, and several types of abuse were some of the secrets we kept (or thought we kept) hidden within our household. When life was not a place of fear and terror, it was a place of shame and doubt.  Love saved me. One of the first times that I confronted love was in the book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  I know it seems silly that a book about a donkey and a little red marble could show me what love looks like.  It was Sylvester’s parents who got through to me. They grieved when their adored son, Sylvester, couldn’t be found.  I realized that love could look like grieving.  My next encounter with love was the Frances books by Russell Hoban.  Frances was lovable, though she was sometimes stubborn, selfish, and childish. Frances had wise caring people in her life who helped her grow and change. I learned that love is not abrasive and that love can transform.

I watched my dad encounter love in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the Big Book) as he read accounts of other recovering alcoholics sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Yes, I ended up reading the whole book cover-to-cover, too.  I was watching it transform my father, so I just had to read it.  I knew there was good stuff in there!

Book by book, chapter by chapter, page by page, I have been transformed as I have encountered love in books.  I have realized that I am not alone. I have realized that my shortcomings don’t have to be permanent.  I have learned that people are resilient, and I can be too.   I learned that there is hope.  Since then, I have tried to share this love with others.  I like helping my students and friends find the right book. The book that will speak to their hearts.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon Donalyn Miller’s words that put voice to what I was trying to do with books.  On page 9 of The Book Whisperer, Donalyn explains how she and her husband have use books to express themselves and their hearts to each other with “Books are our love letter (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”

For over a week, I have been beyond words. I know that to heal, to move forward, I need to use my voice, but there is too much to articulate.  I also know that I need to love. Fearlessly.  So, America, I want to express my love for you.  Here is my love letter to you in the form of books.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Even when it seems that the world (or in Melinda’s case, the entire high school) is against you, and you are hurting alone, find your safe place, your safe person, and speak.

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

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Sometimes the best way to help a friend is to listen to what she is not saying.

 

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

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When a friend encourages you to be yourself, your toughest critic might finally accept you as you are, even if your toughest critic is your own father.

 

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

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Wait, do you really expect me to tell you a tiny little thing about each book on this list?  Just read this one!  Trust me!

One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullay Hunt

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Even those of us who feel we are undeserving of love, are indeed loved.

 

Love the Baby by Steven Layne

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Jealousy can cause hatred, but seeing another’s vulnerability and humanity can sometimes be what we need to help us love.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

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“If you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow and grow and grow.”

 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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Sometimes love looks like a bald, chipped-tooth, taxi-driving coach who pushes you to be better.

 

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

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Love, especially sacrificial love, trumps everything no matter how terrifying, dark, and powerful a certain force may appear to be.

 

A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Find someone you trust and share your dreams.

My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto by Frank Dabba Smith, with photographs by Mendel Grossman

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Even in the worst of times, connecting with others, laughter, and love helps us persevere.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Pay attention to how you treat others, and remember that even small amounts of kindness can ripple outward and change the world.

 

America, this is a teeny tiny list, and there are countless books that will remind you who you are to the world, and who the world should be to you.  These are just a few that I have on my coffee table right now, reminding me that there is hope. Start with one of these, or choose another book, but read, love, transform, and be transformed.
Fondly,

Julie Hoffman

 

 

 

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NaPoWriMo – Day 3

Usually I try a variety of poetry styles during National Poetry Writing Month, so I feel kind of bad that I have two blackout poems in a row.  I couldn’t help it.  They are such fun.  Moreover, I have made everyone near and dear to me read Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  Letting such a beautiful book evoke a poem was inevitable.

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National Poetry Writing Month

This was written on April 1, 2016

Ode to Kwame Alexander (aka Lemme ShakeYour Hand, Sir)

Oh, Kwame—

With your wonder words—

Laying lines of rhyme,

Preying on prepositions in their prime:

Outside the cage,

‘Round with rage

With, or without, wage,

Down

the

page.

 

Within the winsome,

Surrounding the sweetness,

Hanging with the hope.

 

Throw me a challenge.

Amuse me with your musing.

Confuse me until I see.

Wind me up with wondering.

 

Word to your words.

 

Paper Things (Read Along)

Before you read, let it be known that we were inspired in two ways.  First of all, we were inspired by the book Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.  It is an incredible book!

paper-things

 

Our second inspiration came from Brian Wilhorn @HelpReaders, who put together a similar visual guide for the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  We decided to compose our own version for Paper Things, which is another must-read.

Thank you to Michael, Bella, Trey, Emma, Jezlyn, Shae, and Rowan for doing the research and the hard work to put this together.

Chapters 1 through 5

Chapters 6 through 10
Chapters 11 through 15
Chapters 16 through 20

Chapters 21 through 25
Chapters 26 through 30

Chapters 31 through 35
Chapters 36 through 43

Poetry Month – Day 13

For this new trilogy, I have written a Triolet…

 

Genius appliances and friends,

Treasures found in Tesla’s Attic,

Are they magic or mathematic?

Genius appliances, and friends,

Are drawn to the new kid Nick.

One who might know how it ends-

Genius appliances and friends-

Treasures found in Tesla’s attic.