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One Maryland One Book 2020

It’s chilly and dreary and the dead of winter. Here in Maryland, kids and teachers have probably been sleeping with pajamas inside-out and spoons tucked beneath pillows, to no avail. January is long gone and February is half over, yet no snow.

Still crossing my fingers for snow.

On a happier note, I was asked to serve on the One Maryland One Book selection committee (how’s that for a non sequitur?). This year’s theme? Friendship.

Since I came a bit late to the committee, I didn’t submit suggestions; however, I was privileged to participate in the Top Ten selection process and the January meeting. January is when the Top Ten list gets whittled down to the Top Three. And what a fun way to spend a day! Librarians and writers and teachers and professors and other humanities folks—my favorite sort of people—talking about books. Like, seriously talking about them, but in a respectful and thoughtful manner. 

Top Ten 2020

The committee meets in a lovely building downtown, a sunlit space that is filled with astoundingly beautiful plants in the large windows and a massive table in the center of the room. Gathered around are smart people who love good books. Yep, it’s my idea of heaven. The fearless leader of this literary endeavor is Ms. Andrea Lewis. Man, is she ever organized! Start to finish, it’s a finely tuned machine, thanks to Andrea. She kept us on track and made the day fun.

Andrea Lewis, program officer, Maryland Center for the Book

If you’re looking for a way to conquer the winter blues, head to your library or bookstore or one of those other places I’ll refrain from mentioning here, and check out the books on this list. You don’t have to be from Maryland to read them, obviously.

OMOB Top Three!

The Top Choice for One Maryland One Book will be announced the second week of March, and Andrea has promised she’ll answer a few questions for that blog post. I’m attaching the link here in case you’d like to know more about One Maryland One Book. You can learn more about the selection process and browse the list of past winners. 

https://www.mdhumanities.org/programs/one-maryland-one-book/

 

New Year, New Books!

So many books, but not nearly enough time! Every year I set big goals for reading, and every year I fall short of said goal. In 2019, I read 38 books, and it’s very tempting to fudge here and say I read 40. There are two nearly finished books in my queue (City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson). There’s also a collection of poetry I’ve been savoring one poem at a time (A Memory of the Future by Elizabeth Spires). Over the summer I read a large stack of books on frogs, but I’m too lazy to find that list.  

                                 Current book on my bedside table❤️

I’m not ranking or rating or ranting about any of these works. I’m simply listing them. Some I liked. A few I didn’t. At least two books on this list changed me in significant and hopefully lasting ways. One book made me laugh out loud. A lot. That same book also made me cry. It was the best work of fiction I’ve read in a very long time, in fact. There are weird books on this list and smart books and sweet books, too.

       The to-be-read pile. Every year I’m determined to read them all. 🤩

Books keep me afloat when I’m sinking. They make me feel less strange or maybe more so for liking them. Books nearly always help me feel less alone on this life path. So, instead of ranking or rating or ranting, I’ll just say thank you to all the writers for showing up and getting the words on the page and to all the unsung heroes in publishing who helped these books find the light.

                                               Books in my office
Books on the shelf. The mallet is for folks who borrow my books and don’t return them. 😜
                                            Books in the basement
                                     Books in kids’ rooms
                                                  Old books with yellowed pages ❤️
                                   Books in the living room, too!

Here’s to another year of reading, folks. My 2019 list is in the order read.

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Greener Pastures by Charlotte Locklear
  3. What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
  4. In Pieces by Sally Field
  5. Calypso by David Sedaris
  6. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
  7. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
  8. Because of Winn Dixie (again) by Kate DiCamillo
  9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  10. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
  11. The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key
  12. Maid by Stephanie Land
  13. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
  14. Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
  15. South and West by Joan Didion
  16. Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key
  17. Blubber (again) by Judy Blume
  18. Eleanor Oliphant Gail Honeyman
  19. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
  20. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  21. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
  22. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  23. Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
  24. Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
  25. Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
  26. Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
  27. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
  28. Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
  29. The Snail Darter and the Dam by Zygmunt Plater
  30. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  31. Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
  32. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  33. Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
  34. Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me by Les Carter
  35. Don’t You Know Who I Am? by Ramani Durvasula
  36. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  37. Boots on the Ground by Elizabeth Partridge
  38. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

 

High School Senior Crunch Time

College deadlines are looming. Essays to write! Questions to answer! Portfolios to organize! Having taught high school seniors for years and being the mom of a senior currently (my third and final one), I have a few things to offer.

 

   

  1. Calm down. Wherever you end up won’t be perfect. It won’t correct all your deep-seated flaws or create world peace. It’s just college. Some of us (myself included) got to where we were and ended up someplace else. And that was definitely not the worst thing that ever happened to me.

 

  1. Don’t badger your teacher about the letter of rec unless this teacher has demonstrated a lack of responsibility in the past. For instance, she lost your assignments (like, for real), has been late to class numerous times, or winged (wung?) one too many lessons. You get what I’m saying here. And if this is the teacher you’ve chosen to write the letter, my first question is WHY? My second question is Do you have a back-up plan? If not, get one quick.

 

  1. Begin to have that hard discussion with your parents/guardians about the feasibility of certain colleges. The difficult discussions won’t be over once you’re admitted. In fact, they may just be beginning. In my years of teaching, I’ve seen kids encouraged to apply and “just see what happens” only to learn after they got in that their family couldn’t afford the tuition. Be realistic. Also, don’t lose hope. Some colleges will give you $$$. Some colleges will give you more $$$ if you bargain.

 

  1. If someone makes changes to your college essay or says outright it’s terrible, listen to them. Remember, the admissions person who reads your essay doesn’t know you. You are a number, a number on a long list of numbers maybe. How does your essay sound to a complete stranger? Get someone who doesn’t know you well to read it. What you want to know is this: Does my essay make me sound like a person who should be thumped on the head? If so, rewrite or revise. You can do this, I promise. And please avoid the thesaurus. Using a fancy word will not make you appear smarter. In fact, I’m guessing when admissions folks see this sort of thing, they do this.

 

 

  1. You can’t undo your high school track record, but you can stay the course and do well right now. Yes, I’m talking about your senior year. In spite of what you may have heard, your senior year matters. Studies have shown that students who are challenged as high school seniors, perform better as college freshmen. How you end things in high school is important. Don’t believe me? Read the next one to know why.

 

  1. You are creating a reputation for yourself right now this minute. And I so get that you want to blow the high school popsicle stand already. Don’t. First of all, as a teacher I can tell you I have really, genuinely, truly loved about 95% of my students. While teachers are sort of ready to get rid of seniors (because you’re a handful and you know it!), you have also become one of our children. Cheesy as that may sound, it’s true for most of the teachers I’ve encountered. And get this. You may actually need us again, sooner than you think. Several years ago, I had a student who wanted to transfer, TWICE. Both times he needed my letter of rec. He was not a perfect kid or a straight-A kid, but I liked him. He was really funny and really smart and really kind. And if he asked for my reference tomorrow, I’d still give him one.

 

  1. Speaking of teachers, thank them for those letters of recommendation. In most cases, teachers are not required to write these letters. They do so out of the goodness of their hearts. No need to break the bank getting a gift, but a nice handwritten note is a thoughtful gesture.

 

 

  1. In a few weeks or months, you’ll start getting those letters. Acceptance or rejection, it’s just a part of life. As a writer I have been rejected. So. Many. Times. Mourn for a day (two tops) and then get over yourself and your disappointment and move on. Life has a way of working out, even when you don’t get what you want.

 

  1. Eat. Exercise. Live your life. Be a high school kid a while longer because like the song says, “You will never pass this way again.”

 

 

Finally, if you are still reading, smile. To go to college may seem like a right, but think of all the people in the world, women and girls especially, who can only dream of being where you are right now. Be grateful. Education isn’t a panacea (now there’s a word for your college essay!), but it’s pretty darn close.  

 

 

Who Have We Become?

I’ve traveled quite a bit this summer, more than usual. As much as I love being home, it’s exhilarating to smell someplace new. Takes me out of my head, allows me to see the world in a different light.

While in an airport security line, I noticed a family—mother, father, big brother, little sister. This is what they looked like in any case. And being the teacher and children’s writer I am, I watched the kids, especially the little girl. Her cheeks were chubby. She had a mop of pretty dark hair. Understandably, she was apprehensive about the whole process—trays and belts and X-ray machines and folks in uniform. Yet even from my distant vantage point, I could see she was listening to the instructions, abiding by the rules, eager to please.

This same family was at my gate. The four of them going to Baltimore, too, I guessed, that is until pre-boarding began. The woman I assumed was the mother wept openly now and urged the little girl down the ramp. “Go!” she cried, literally, and off the child went.

As I watched the family walk away, my heart clenched. It clenches now as I write this post. Life is painful, I thought. There are too many goodbyes, I said to myself.

Inside the plane the little girl sat in a row by herself, tears streaming and nose running. Thinking I might console her or at least provide tissues, I sat next to her. “Thank you,” she whispered when I handed the package of Kleenex over.

There was a notepad in my computer bag and a pen, so I passed these things to her, too.

“You’re brave to travel by yourself,” I told her. “You must be at least ten.”

“I’m six,” she replied.

Six? My own children were once six, and I tried to recall them at that age. First grade. Stuffed animals. Lots of pink.

There was intermittent weeping, some drawing, some chatting.

“I like you. You’re nice,” she said.

“I like you. You’re nice, too,” I told her.

“What’s your favorite movie?” she asked.

Matilda. What’s yours?”  

Chucky,” she replied, and then proceeded to describe a few bloody details.

More time passed. The girl stared out the window. She drew another picture. I watched as she folded it in half then handed it to me.

 

“What if my mom isn’t there?” Layla asked.

“She’ll be there,” I replied.

“But what if she isn’t? I can’t be all alone,” she said.

“You won’t be alone,” I assured her.

For over an hour this continued. Crying and drawing and talking and staring and questioning. So much uncertainty in Layla’s world. So much uncertainty in so many children’s worlds. ICE raids and parents taken. Sick children deported. Unthinkable sadness and terror. Trauma that will last a lifetime. Trauma that will trickle down through generations and haunt us all.

Who have we become?

“I’m going to live with my mother and Thomas,” Layla said. “He has a basement with a washer and dryer. We can have clean clothes.”

“That’s good,” I said. “Don’t you just love clean clothes?”

“Yes,” she said. “I hope my mother is there. What if she isn’t there?”

“She’ll be there, I promise. You won’t be alone.”

Due to storms we waited on the tarmac. Rain slashed the windows and lightning flickered in the distance. Layla’s nervousness grew worse. Again and again, she said, “What if my mother isn’t there? What will I do?”

Layla had some distance yet to go. She wasn’t disembarking in Baltimore as I’d hoped, but instead traveling to another city. In the dark. Alone.  

This flight was weeks ago now, but still I think of Layla. I hope her mother was waiting that night. I hope the reunion was good and solid and true. I hope her clothes are scrupulously clean and her backpacked stocked for the start of school.

Layla was only one child, but I had a front row seat to her terror. All those faces behind chain-link fences. Not their children. Not somebody else’s children. 

My children. Our children.

Who have we become?