Hope Is the Word http://hopeisthewordblog.com books, reading, & home education Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:09:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/cropped-Hope-Is-the-Word-Logo-LARGE-PNG-1-32x32.png Hope Is the Word http://hopeisthewordblog.com 32 32 Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/06/25/just-like-jackie-by-lindsey-stoddard/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/06/25/just-like-jackie-by-lindsey-stoddard/#respond Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:09:47 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24080 [Read more...]]]> About twenty-five years ago, give or take a few years, my papaw’s mind began to fail. Because I was young, an unencumbered college student with an “easy” part-time job and no other family responsibilities, I was available to help out with him. I would spend the night with him and my granny, sitting up with him when he wouldn’t stay in bed, and generally just watching after him. I look back on those years as one of the greatest things I’ve ever done–not great as in “I’m great because I did it,” but great as in “this is something that’s important and worthwhile.” To this day I look back on those days with both sadness and gratitude.

Lindsey Stoddard’s new book Just Like Jackie tackles this timely issue and much more. It’s the story of an eleven year old girl named Robinson Hart who lives with her grandfather in the woods of Vermont. Robbie has a chip on her shoulder at school, so she’s a regular in both the principal’s and the counselor’s offices. She’s a “white” kid with a “black” grandfather, she has a boy’s name, she loves to play baseball, and she acts tough. All of those things make her an easy target.  However, she also has no tolerance at all for the class bully, Alex, whom she is not afraid of.  It’s a fight with Alex that opens the story and eventually lands Robbie in group counseling sessions at school with not only Alex but two more of her classmates, Candace and Oscar.  School life gets more complicated when their teacher assigns a family tree project, and each of the group counseling session students find this particular assignment particularly difficult.  {Side observation: what teacher in her right mind would make such an assignment?} They work through it together, though, and everyone is better for it in the end.

The other part of the story, the part that happens at home (and thus, naturally, bleeds over into school) is about Robbie’s relationship with her Grandpa. Grandpa is the only parent she’s ever known, and they are a team. Grandpa runs a garage with the help of a guy named Harold. Robbie lives for the hours she can be Grandpa’s right-hand man at the garage, and she knows a lot about cars. Robbie’s only complaint about her life is that she knows nothing about her past. Grandpa simply will not tell her anything about her mother.  What’s worse is that Grandpa’s memory is failing, and Robbie needs to get it out of him before he can’t tell her anymore.

Lindsey Stoddard is a gifted writer, and I especially loved Robbie’s pitch-perfect voice that sees the world through the lens of baseball, cars, and sugar maple trees.  Stoddard captures the thinking of a kid with a lot of heavy stuff on her mind, and she makes Robbie’s distress come out in true-to-life ways. I also like that the school handles Robbie’s situation with attention to her mental health. Some of what happens in the story isn’t completely believable (for example, the aforementioned family tree assignment), but so much of the story is completely realistic that the unbelievable bits are forgivable.  Robbie is a smart, plucky, difficult, but very real character. Conservative readers will want to know that this middle grade novel contains a fair amount of bad language and that a same-s *x couple figures heavily into the plot.  I think this one might be a medal contender come next February. (Harper, 2018)

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/06/21/goodbye-stranger-by-rebecca-stead/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/06/21/goodbye-stranger-by-rebecca-stead/#respond Thu, 21 Jun 2018 20:20:56 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24075 [Read more...]]]> Once upon a time I imagined we’d be that family.  You know the one:  the one where we all just get along famously, with no childish hijinks or tweenage angst or teenage ennui or parental impatience about.  It turns out, we’re human after all, subject to the fits and foibles that make us just that:  created in God’s image, but nowhere near “arrived.”  This is one reason I appreciate a good problem novel, especially one that I can pass on to my children for a bit of unintrusive bibliotherapy.

Rebecca Stead has written that and a bit more in her book Goodbye Stranger.   This is the story of a trio of BFFs who are facing seventh grade together.  However, things aren’t quite the same as they’ve always been:  Em has a new body, Tab has a new mission, and Bridge just wants things to stay the same. Things get really complicated when Em gets a maybe-boyfriend and sticks a toe into the world of s*exting. The real complication comes, though, when the pictures hit the internet.  The fallout from that is the stuff of middle school (and maybe high school) drama, but it’s full of heart. I love how Stead gives Em a real personality so that we don’t just see her as the “bad girl.” I love how a plot twist (that I admit I never saw coming) even puts another spin on the complication.  I love how Stead intersperses the Em/Tab/Bridge story with vignettes from the point of view of an unknown narrator who has skipped school for the day due to her own unidentified crisis.  All this is resolved by the end of the novel, making the resolution of the main story even more poignant.  We also get a tiny glimpse into the world of one of the supporting characters, a boy who becomes Bridge’s best friend by the end of the story, via letters he has written to his absentee grandfather.  Relational complications abound!

The money quote for me is this one:

Bridge knew why she as here.  It’s why we’re all here, she thought.

Call it Mr. Partridge with his black-and-white cookies.  Call it Em standing on that stage with her knees shaking but her voice strong. Call it Jamie looking awkward in the doorway of her bedroom after she’d had the mummy nightmare. Call it love.

“Are all those pizzas we’ve been eating really in the budget?” she whispered to Mr. Partridge.

He looked down at her, surprised. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he said. “Pretty much nothing is in the budget.”

And then the audience burst into applause.

Sans context, maybe it makes no sense.  But I’m learning this:  love and budget never belong in the same sentence because love costs everything.  And that’s the way it has to be.

Highly Recommended.  (Yearling, 2015)

Related links:

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Meeting Julie http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/06/17/meeting-julie/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/06/17/meeting-julie/#comments Mon, 18 Jun 2018 01:26:34 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24067 [Read more...]]]> Back in January I declared my bloggy resurrection, only to promptly fall prey to both the winter doldrums and over-the-top busy-ness.  We had three school-aged children going in three different directions several times a week, including (but not limited to) participation in a play at a local private school, robotics and rocketry meetings and competitions, soccer games, and two different kinds of lessons (tennis and horsemanship).  Despite all this, I never gave up the idea of blogging entirely because I value it greatly.  It’s an orderly space that’s all mine, and I need to flex my writing-and-thinking muscles often, or at least as often as I can.

So here I am.


I actually started this post on a whim, surrounded by snack-eating children, trash-bag protected tabletop and tempera paint pucks, scattered books, Legos, and even a small canister of Flarp!  I’m mid-book right now, and the last books I finished aren’t remembered well enough to share a whole post.  So my mind cast about for something else to share, and I landed on Julie.

Yesterday I got to meet Julie Bogart for the first time in real life.  I’ve corresponded with her via email, chatted with her online, read and used her homeschool materials, and even attempted to share the same physical space with her twice.  The first time I was all set to attend her first retreat in Ohio when I had to cancel my plans due to a family emergency.  Then last September two homeschooling buddies and I booked flights to Austin, Texas, to attend another retreat, only this time Julie had an accident was unable to attend the retreat herself. (We did get to meet two of the lovely and completely wonderful Brave Writer ladies and see Julie on the big screen.)   My local Brave Writer friends and I were flabbergasted when we learned that she was coming to a small conference in Cullman, Alabama, this summer, and we purchased our tickets quicker than you can say the words poetry teatime.  (We didn’t want to run the risk of the event selling out!)

When I got home last night after a full day of homeschool friends, fellowship, and Julie, one of my girls asked me, “Was it everything you thought it would be?”  That struck me as funny because after all, Julie is just a flesh-and-blood person, not a celebrity (even though I think of her as that myself). However, with that being said, it was everything I expected (or maybe the better word is needed) it to be.

Someone once said, “Nothing endures but change.”  (The Internet tells me it was someone named Heraclitus, though I think the quote sticks in my mind because someone said it once in one of the Anne books or maybe in one of the movies.  Anyway.)  I know that much is true.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, your kids go and grow up a little bit on you.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, things get stale.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize your life is for living, too, and you’ve been just surviving it instead of living it.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, a kid turns out to be different than you expected him or her to be.

That’s why I love Julie so much.  She explains all of this from the unique perspective of someone who has homeschooled and raised five children. She does it from the perspective of someone who freely admits it wasn’t perfect, that we’re all just figuring it out as we go along.  She brings the perspective of someone who never stopped learning and growing, and she has made it both her passion and her business to come alongside homeschool families and support them, not just in the teaching of writing but in the figuring out the messy, glorious building of a family culture.

My biggest takeaways yesterday had nothing to do with teaching writing at all.  (Not that I have that mastered–ha! However, I fully appreciate and subscribe to the Brave Writer philosophy and feel like I grasp it enough for there not to be many surprises in what she says regarding that.)  My takeaways mostly had to do with what she calls Awesome Adulting and the raising of teenagers.  Actually, those two things are intertwined somewhat, too, at least in my mind.  A conference attendee asked her at the end of her last session yesterday a question about homeschooling a son who was just entering high school.  She was wondering what homeschooling should look like for teens.  Julie responded with the idea that teens require risk and adventure, that those two things are vital to their development.  It’s the main thing they’re after during the teen years, though obviously those things look different for different teens.  Julie basically said that it’s time for mom (or whoever does the homeschooling) to maybe take a step or two back and let the teen go a bit–to find his or her place in the world, in whatever way seems best for that teen.  And what is mom supposed to do while that is happening?  Be available, of course, but–find a hobby!  Immerse herself in her own life, in her own passions, in her own callings.  This was the right word at the right time for me yesterday because our family is in transition for just those two things.  Lulu will be entering public school next year as a ninth grader.  It’s time for her to spread her wings a bit.  It’s certainly not been without its moments of sadness (sometimes deep sadness for me), but I feel peace in my heart that this is the right thing for her. The other part of this is that I’m seeing that it’s time for me to “dust off some old ambitions” (as Anne once said) and find a small place for me to re-enter the wider world again. I’ve been home full time for over five years now, and it’s time. Will life by crazy?  Yes.  Will it be hectic at times? Yes.  Will it be worth it?  I think so.

Thank you, dear Julie, for helping me both see and stay on the healthiest path for my family.  I’m thankful that I “met” you all those years ago.


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Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/02/09/orphan-island-by-laurel-snyder/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/02/09/orphan-island-by-laurel-snyder/#comments Sat, 10 Feb 2018 01:15:21 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24052 [Read more...]]]> You know what’s tough?  Growing up.  I remember it.

You know what else is tough?  Being the mama, helping your children grow up.  I’m doing it.  (Confession:  this might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.)

In my quest to read books that are the talk of the Newbery prognosticators, I finally got around to reading Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.  I ordered it from the library months and months ago, and had even brought it home to read way back then, but I never got around to it.  This time I was determined, and it turns out that it was the right book at the right time for me.

What, you might ask, does the last paragraph have to do with the first two questions I posed in this post?  Plenty.  You see, Orphan Island is an extended metaphor for growing up, for transitioning into adolescence, for entering puberty, for whatever else you want to call that transition from little-kid to straining-toward-adulthood.   While this book is obviously written for a juvenile audience, there was plenty for this forty-three year old woman to glean from it.  It’s the story of Jinny, one of the oldest kids on Orphan Island.  At the beginning of the book, she gets her own Charge, or orphan she’s supposed to care for, delivered by the mysterious green boat that delivers new children and takes away old children.  This Changing took Jinny’s best friend, Deen, and replaced him with a little girl named Ess.  Jinny misses Deen and chafes against the responsibility of Ess.  Then things begin to go a bit sideways on their perfect island, which up until this point had provided everything the nine orphans who live there (always nine orphans) ever need.  It’s hard to tell, though, who or what is changing:  Jinny or the island.  And then Jinny makes a decision that has some downright dire consequences.

This feels a bit like a dystopian novel, mostly because until the reader figures out it’s a metaphor, she spends a lot of time scratching her head about the meaning of Changing and Cares and Elders.  However, the metaphor puts a fine point on the ending of childhood and the beginning of what it means to be an adult.  All of this is compounded by the fact that the Elders are responsible for their Cares, so in addition to their own growing pains (both physical and emotional), they have to think about the little kids whom they love.  It’s emotionally complicated but very true to real life.

I’ve dipped into a bit of the conversation around this year’s Newbery.  From what I’ve seen, this is one of the more polarizing books (at least on Goodreads).  People either love it or hate it.  I definitely fall in the first camp.  Louise, age twelve, read it and liked it “okay.”  Will the Newbery committee love it?  I don’t know, but this forty-three year old mother of two girls on the cusp of growing up got a lot out of it.  (Highly Recommended.  (HarperCollins, 2018)

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What I read in January 2018 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/31/what-i-read-in-january-2018/ http://hopeisthewordblog.com/2018/01/31/what-i-read-in-january-2018/#comments Wed, 31 Jan 2018 12:00:13 +0000 http://hopeisthewordblog.com/?p=24044 [Read more...]]]> January is almost always a great reading month for me, and this month has been no exception. It’s as if I heave a great sigh of relief as soon as the Christmas decor is packed away and collapse into a figurative easy chair to read the month away.  Of course, this doesn’t really happen, but I manage to fill my nooks and crannies with reading more in January than any other month. So what have those nooks and crannies held for me this month?

What I read by myself, a.k.a. for my own enjoyment and edification:

  • The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons, M.D.– I never reviewed this one, which I started in December but finished early this month, on my blog, but here is what I shared on Goodreads:

Mental health is a topic of great interest to me due to personal experience with mental illness. I read this author’s The Chemistry of Calm (his book about anxiety) last month as it applied more to my own personal experience at the time. I read a review somewhere that cited his The Chemistry of Joy as the better of the two books, and I have to agree with that reviewer. In my understanding and experience, anxiety and depression are bound up together. This book paves a bright and hopeful path using Western knowledge about mental health, Auyervedic understanding, and Buddhist philosophical teachings to offer a three-pronged approach to healing. Some of the suggestions are a bit out of my comfort zone as a thoroughly Western thinker, but it has provided me much food for thought and a great sense of hopefulness, which is invaluable.

  • Straw into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt–loved this one enough to choose it as a bookclub read for my class at co-op –reviewed on my blog here
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas:  How Charles Dickens’s Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford–I started this audiobook after seeing the movie by the same title (twice!–I LOVED it that much).  I’m a distracted audiobook listener so I know I missed some details and quite possibly great swaths of this engaging piece of nonfiction.  Still, enough of it sticks with me–particularly how our modern iteration of Christmas is indeed modern–the Puritans didn’t celebrate it at all, thus England didn’t celebrate it at all until the Victorian era.  It also made me want to read more Dickens.

    • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park–a re-read of this short but affecting story; my original review is here
    • Beauty:  A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley–it’s hard to pick a favorite, but this one might be it for the month.  My review here.
    • The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas–I didn’t review this one because I couldn’t.  All I can really say about it is that it gave me the feeling that I presume people might’ve felt after viewing Joseph Riis’s How the Other Half Lives.  I really had no idea what life is like for some Black Americans, but this book is an inside look.  A language and content warning belong on this book of young adult fiction, but I ultimately found it worth it.  Check out this review at Breakpoint for more insight (HT Sherry)
    • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate–It’s the time of year that I frantically try to catch up on the purported best in juvenile fiction so as to be able to anticipate the ALA awards in February.  This one is on a lot of lists, and I enjoyed it.  My review here.
    • I also managed to keep up with my Daily Audio Bible listening, which means I listened to Genesis and Job.  (I’m listening to the chronological Bible.)
  • What I read aloud to/with my children (chapter books only)
    • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai–My girls and I enjoyed this audiobook together, read expertly by Doan Ly.  My original review here.

  • The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Phillip Stead (illustrated by Erin Stead)– I read this delightful and quixotic tale to all four of my children, an unheard-of feat!  My review here.
  • Squanto by Clyde Robert Bulla–I partner-read this one with the DLM.  Here are my thoughts from Goodreads:

I read this one aloud, partnering with my 7 year old son. Clyde Robert Bulla’s books are good ones for this age, but I found myself editing this one a lot as I read, giving Squanto’s sentences all the necessary parts to make him sound like an intelligent human being. In other words, it stereotypes the Native Americans’ speech, which is something that is at best highly annoying and at worst something that creates the wrong image of Native Americans in the minds of another generation of youngsters.

  • Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz–This a funny, short chapter book for the early elementary and preschool set.  My review here.

Eleven books in a month is as many as I’ve read in a long time.  I’m pleased with it, and more important, I’m happy with my book choices.  It feels like a month well spent.

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