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


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


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


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes


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


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


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


Love the Baby by Steven Layne


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


“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


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


Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling


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


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


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

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson


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.

Julie Hoffman





NaPoWriMo – Day 18

The Sounds of Home


Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 9.21.13 PM

Sounds of sanders, sawdust, and creativity
10 pound bags of potatoes
spattering in the Fry-Daddy
While Dad sings and makes us laugh

Tears, crying, sorrow, pain
Fighting, fear, fighting, fear

Takes Guts
truth TruTh TRUTH
Takes Guts

Fighting, tears, overcoming fear,
Dare, growing, grief, heal

While Dad sings and makes us laugh
Spattering paint in the basement
10 gallon bucket of possibilities
Sounds of sanders, sawdust, and creativity


NaPoWriMo – Day 17

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was “Today, I challenge you to find, either on your shelves or online, a specialized dictionary. This could be, for example, a dictionary of nautical terms, or woodworking terms, or geology terms. Anything, really, so long as it’s not a standard dictionary! Now write a poem that incorporates at least ten words from your specialized source. Happy writing!” My poem is based on the Pedagogy of the Oppressed dictionary of critical theory terms (No, it doesn’t really exist, but I have definitely incorporated at least ten words form my specialized source).

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 9.24.05 PM

Notes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed:  Chapter One

To become fully human
is to risk an act of love.

The oppressed,
in freeing himself,
fights . . .


. . .

Minha vida.
Minha luta.
Strive towards plentitude!

NaPoWriMo – Day 14

Based on inspiration from NaPoWriMo2016 and The Daily Post, I have written a san san using the The Daily Post daily prompt “Suitcase”.  NaPoWriMo explains that the “poem called a san san means ‘three three’ in Chinese (It’s also a term of art in the game Go). The san san has some things in common with the tritina, including repetition and rhyme. In particular, the san san repeats, three times, each of three terms or images. The lines rhyme in the pattern a-b-c-a-b-d-c-d.”


The frame, atop the journal, in the battered suitcase,

Both holding memories of her old flame

Suitcased in Sadness, agony becomes nocturnal.

In her journal, a moment when his hands framed her face

Now she desperately wants to forget his name.

Then page subsides to leaf, so grief sank to rue,

Eternally framed, and stored, in her journal.

Like the suitcase, her heartanguish, a portmanteau.

NaPoWriMo – Day 10

Our Hearts

We thought it would be wise,

But much to our demise, we’re wrong.

Expected to be strong enough—

Turns out that grace is tough to give.

We struggle to forgive

Knowing that we can’t live this way

And not sure what to say.

Let’s choose to change today and face—

Our hearts have been misplaced.

This poem is a Luc Bat — a Vietnamese poetic form that means “six-eight.” In fact, the poem consists of alternating lines of six and eight syllables. This poem is interesting in its rhyme scheme that renews at the end of every eight-syllable line and rhymes on the sixth syllable of both lines.



Poetry Month – Day 16

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Acrostic)

Wallowing in the pain of

Awkward adolescence,

Learning to

Love others and to become

Free enough to

Love yourself,

Outcast, and casting out the

Wailing of an

Earlier you –

Redeemable with truth.

A Few Good Books

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Grades 6 through 8

Life is challenging enough for anybody who is about to turn 13, but for Mibs Beaumont, turning 13 changes everything.  Every Beaumont has a “savvy” or a special talent that starts on the 13th birthday.  One Beaumont can control electricity, and one can create huge storms and hurricanes.

Mibs convinces herself that her savvy can wake up her dad, who is hospitalized in a coma.  When she gets on a bus to sneak to the hospital, she and her siblings end up on quite the adventure.

My Rating:  4 Stars

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Grades 4 through 8

Joey gets to spend the summer with his dad who convinces (forces) Joey to stop taking his ADHD medications.  As Joey loses control of himself, he also has to come to terms with some other difficult issues:  his parents’ divorce, his dad’s alcoholism, and his grandmother’s addiction.

My Rating:  5 Stars

The Tale of Desperaux : Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and   a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo

Ages 5 to 105

This story is a story of a mouse, Desperaux, who is not content with his lot in life.  He is a dreamer, and falls in love with a princess, named Pea.  As Desperaux fights for a life that is more than what he was offered he has to confront rejection, fear, darkness, and the rats in the dungeon.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars (4 the first time I read it; 5 the second time)