Book Review: Wink

I had seen Wink, by Rob Harrell, in a few lists of “best of” book lists from last year and finally got a chance to read it during our class Independent Reading time at the end of the year, and I admit: I really enjoyed it.

Harrell, a comic strip/graphic novelists, uses his own childhood story of a rare eye cancer to inject his main middle-school-student character, Ross, with authenticity, as Ross goes through the same ordeal. The book is prose but has lots of funny doodles and a running Ross-created comic called BatPig that is hilarious and insightful, capturing the anxiety of Ross as he goes through treatment.

Stories of young people and cancer are, of course, serious business, and can often get stuck under a dark narrative cloud. There are dramatic moments here, as Ross struggles with difficult questions of why this cancer happening to him, of how his friends are either coming in close or drifting apart, and how it is affecting his family. His mother died earlier of cancer, too, and his father, during one of the more powerful scenes, tells Ross how he, the father, barely held it together after she died.

Ross is also the victim of some cruel social media posts by classmates, as he and his cancer is turned into memes that spread like wildfire and make him feel powerless. Only his best friend, Abby, holds him together until a dramatic confrontation with the meme-generating students during a lunch.

And then there’s the rock and roll. Ross decided he wants to learn to play guitar, which leads to a Talent Show, in which all of Ross’ anger and frustration at the world is let loose in an amped-up punk rock performance with Abby and another friend that startles everyone in the audience (he even destroys an old guitar on the stage in class Hendrix fashion). In music, Ross finds release.

This book is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students, for sure.

Peace (on stage),

Slice of Life: Noticing The Moments As Poems

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Summer ain’t over yet but it’s getting there … so I am trying to quiet my mind a bit before the frantic start of a new school year, using my daily morning poetry to notice moments. It’s sort of like some zen incantation, how writing words as poems of moments of stillness gives the head a chance to pause.

Four Moments

Two small finch
balanced on stems,
nibbling seeds,
their hollow bones
in perfect sync
with summer flower,
fluttering, bending,
but holding steady,
swaying in the breeze

The dragonfly
alights to the edge
of the boat,
lands and waits,
as I draw in paddles
to let us float,
its wings a-hover,
a stillness moment
of quiet wonder

They climb the tree
that is a castle
that becomes a cloud
that moves a mountain
that starts a story
that becomes a poem
that looks its way out
on the wider world
where we are only wandering by,

In the aftermath
of the receding,
with the world
painted in brushes
of broken limbs
and damaged parts,
the evening sky
casts us a glow
in pink, amber, blue –
an act of forgiving
while still giving
the storm its due

Peace (sharing it with you),

Book Review: The 99 % Invisible City

The subtitle to Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt’s The 99 % Invisible City says a lot about what to expect from within its pages: “A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.”

Inspired by their 99 % Invisible podcast, the authors here explore a menagerie of ideas about urban spaces that are intriguing, interesting and make you want to open your eyes and really see the world as you wander your nearest city (including the one you might live in). The use of “design” as a lens is really helpful, too.

I appreciated the scope of the short pieces here and how they are grouped under general themes like “Conspicuous” and “Architecture” and “Urbanism” and then broken further into ideas like “Identity” and “Liminal” and “Interventions.” Taken together, the book lives up to its claim of helping us notice the things we either take for granted or fail to notice because they are so visible.

So, we learn about fire escapes, and traffic signals, grassroots gardening and viral signage, sidewalk markings and emergency exits. Seriously, the topics are wide-reaching and yet, ordinary on the surface — only to be revealed as interestingly complex just below.

You won’t see the city streets the same way again, and that’s a good thing.

Peace (watching our step),

Slice of Life: Stop Me If This Sounds Familiar

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I was pretty successful in my attempt to not think too much about the new school year throughout the month of July (we ended our year at the end of June). Now things are creeping back into my head, day and into the night, and I am beginning to feel that anxiety increase again.

Someone on Twitter dug up this comic of mine from last year, a comic that seems appropriate again this year, as the Delta variant upends the plans for the start of the new school year.

Educator Insomnia

To be fair, I don’t even know how Delta will affect our school opening in a few weeks. I live in a state with high vaccination rates and the Covid numbers are still fairly moderate. But any elementary school, where kids are too young to be vaccinated, is sure to be a place of concern for families and staff, and students.

And I noticed our public libraries and spaces are shifting back to mask mandates for everyone.  More people are masking up in grocery stores. And my high school son remarked that he just can’t even think about starting a year in remote. My wife, a school librarian, and I are having more conversations about Covid, again.

Suddenly, the return to school is back to the forefront of our lives, and ‘normal’ still remains a distant memory.

Peace (thinking it out loud),

Vacation Haiku: Small Poems for Quiet Moments

Silent Sunday

On a family summer vacation to the coast of Maine, I tried to use what I was seeing and experiencing for composing haiku poems early each morning, over a cup of coffee and a beautiful view of some marshlands. My writing was often interrupted – and just as often, inspired – by birds, deer and other wildlife, as well as just the beauty of the moments.

Some of the context behind the poems might be more for me than for the reader, but I think the reader can still enjoy the poems as is.

Day One

As sun slept, water
rippled, resting in moonlight:
Night tides fill all spaces

Day Two

Between moments of
winds wrestling another,
we deep breathe the calm

Day Three

Using tide as brush,
landscape as canvas, oceans
turn worlds beautiful

Day Four

Paddles push silence
through high tide and pathways,
buoyant as the birds

Day Five

Wake the day with fog,
blanket of obscurity:
oceans heard, unseen

Day Six

Quick feet/quiet ear,
marshland deer watch us, watching
them, then disappear

Day Seven

Time and weather worked
with relentless patience, honed;
Sand from mountain bone

Peace (in poems),