Saturday, October 15, 2011

National Grouch Day is October 15th

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens).
  • Carl Fredrickson (from the Disney-Pixar movie UP).
  • Grumpy (from the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves).
  • Miss Gulch (from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum). 
  • Yosemite Sam (from Warner Brothers cartoons).
  • Statler and Waldorf (from the Muppets).
  • The Grinch (from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss).

What do all of these family-friendly, fictional folks have in common?

Why, they're grouches, of course. You know: churls, cranks, crosspatches, grumps, soreheads, sourpusses, crabs. And let's not forget my personal favorite: 


If you have more than a little bit in common with these literary and cinematic grouches, then today is your day. Celebrate your grouchiness...or not. (After all, jollification in any form is in direct conflict with the typical Grouchy Nature). And if you're more of a Ray o' Sunshine kind of peep, today is the perfect day to try on some cranky pants for size. 

Either way, you've got to start National Grouch Day off somehow. And who better to start you off, than that grouch of all grouches: Oscar the Grouch?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Love, Ruby Lavender, by Deborah Wiles

                                          June 8

Dear Miss Eula,
     Well, you are gone. I hope you are happy. I am not.
     For your information, Melba Jane is still here. I am working on a disappearing potion to make her vanish.

Ruby Lavender is not your average chicken thief. For starters, she's only nine years old. Plus, she wasn't stealing those chickens as much as liberating them from a future lying cooked and crispy on someone's dinner plate. Ruby is looking forward to a summer of caring for her chickens, and spending lots of time with her partner in chicken thievery: getaway driver Miss Eula.

But Ruby's plans quickly unravel when Miss Eula decides to up and leave Halleluia, Mississippi for a while. She's going to Hawaii to visit her new baby granddaughter. She won't be gone forever, but she doesn't know when she'll be back, either. Up until now, Ruby has been Miss Eula's only grandchild, and Ruby is jealous. Plus, how will Ruby care for the chickens and their newly laid eggs, without Miss Eula's help? How will she deal with the torment that is Melba Jane, without Miss Eula to talk her through it? How will she get through helping out at her grumpy Aunt Mattie's general store, without Miss Eula to smooth things over? And who will leave Ruby letters in their secret mailbox, with Miss Eula gone?

As it turns out, that secret mailbox isn't the only way to exchange letters with Miss Eula. And Ruby finds herself spending a summer she never saw coming, and likely will never forget.

For Teachers and Librarians:

Besides being a story that will find a place in your students' hearts, Love, Ruby Lavender has a whole mess of ways for you to use it in your classroom. Use it as part of a letter-writing unit, as a connection with the letters Ruby and Miss Eula write back and forth. Have a fun side-unit on chickens: their behavior, care and feeding, and learning how a chicken gets from egg to chick. 

It's a great book to use in conjunction with a map unit, as the book includes a map of Ruby's little town. Have your students create maps of their own neighborhoods, or your school's neighborhood. Connect with social studies and examine maps of Mississippi, and Hawaii. Is Halleluia a real town in Mississippi? Mark it! If not, research what town the author based Halleluia on, and mark that instead. Mark the town where the new grandbaby lives in Hawaii. Conduct mini units on each state.

How about connections with transportation? Car, walk, plane, bus and bike are all mentioned in the book. A unit on travel would be fun: trying new foods, visiting new places, learning new cultures or ways of life. Or perhaps a unit on jobs: small business owner, anthropologist, newspaper columnist, egg ranch, or farming. Even retirement: what is it? How does it work? 

Guidance counselors can use this book too: lots of material here to help students work through conflict resolution issues, dealing with grief, working through bumps in the road of friendship, examining the many relationships we have with others (friends, neighbors, coworkers, family). 

So much material here. How will you use it?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers: 
Love, Ruby Lavender is a book that will touch your heart, as well as the hearts of your kids. You could each read it alone, or read it together. You'll be glad you did. And did you know? This particular edition has nice little extra: a Reading Group Guide in the back, geared especially to grandmothers and granddaughters.

This book touches on a host of real-life issues that your kids (and you) may be dealing with, in a gentle, loving way: death of a loved one and figuring out how to understand and live with that grief, conflicts with friends and kids at school, jealousy over new babies in the family, conflicts with family members and learning how to live peacefully among them, and even living in a one-parent household and the positives and negatives they may feel about that. But perhaps most importantly, Love, Ruby Lavender is about love, and forgiveness, and friendship, and family. Don't let this one pass you or your kids by.

For the Kids:
Ruby Lavender is a nine-year-old chicken thief. And who is her getaway driver? Her own grandmother, Miss Eula! They saved three chickens from ending up on someone's dinner table, and now one of them has laid three eggs. Ruby can't wait to spend her summer with Miss Eula, caring for those eggs, and the chicks that will hatch from them. But one day, Miss Eula tells Ruby she's going away for a while. All the way to Hawaii. Worse, she'll be visiting her brand-new baby granddaughter. (Up until now, Ruby was Miss Eula's only grandchild.) 

Here in Halleluia, there's that torment of a girl, Melba Jane to deal with. And Ruby's cranky aunt, Miss Mattie. How will she manage the chickens, and Melba Jane, and Miss Mattie, all by herself this summer? Who will answer the notes Ruby leaves in their secret mailbox? With Miss Eula gone, Ruby is expecting the summer to be awful. But then her new teacher, Mr. Ishee, moves into town. And he's brought his nine-year-old niece, who dresses like she's ready to head into the jungle. And soon, things start to get a lot more interesting... 

For Everyone Else:
Love, Ruby Lavender is a book that will find a place in your heart, curl up, and never leave. Adults will find themselves remembering what it was like to be nine and learning about the world as they moved through it. Kids will find themselves relieved to see that a lot of the things they have to deal with, others do, too, and that somehow it all works out, eventually. 

Wrapping Up:
Love, Ruby Lavender is destined to be a classic. Buy it. Borrow it. But - good garden of peas! - make sure you read it. You'll be glad you did.

Title: Love, Ruby Lavender
Author: Deborah Wiles
Cover Illustration: Marla Frazee
Pages: 212
Reading Level: Ages 8-12
Publisher and Date: Gulliver Books (Harcourt, Inc.) 2002
Edition: First Gulliver Books paperback edition, 2002
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $5.95
ISBN-10: 0-15-202314-3
ISBN-13: 0-15-205478-2pb

Author Spotlight: Deborah Wiles

Sometimes, a writer's path to publication takes many twists and turns. Deborah Wiles has held a variety of jobs. Some of those jobs sound very writerly, like freelance writer, and journalist. Some sound a little writerly, but in a different way, like her days as an oral history gatherer, and a teacher. Some don't sound very writerly at all, but could give an observant person a ton of ideas for stories or characters, like she may have collected during her school bus driver days, or her time as a burger queen. She was even an underwear salesperson once. And, now, in the most recent part of her winding path, Deborah Wiles has become an award winning children's author.

Her first title came out in 2001: the picture book Freedom Summer. She followed that with the middle grade novel, Love, Ruby Lavender, which came out the same year. Ms. Wiles has gone on to publish a total of 6 books so far: two picture books, and four novels.

Mrs. Wiles also took time for education. She learned more about writing as she worked toward her MFA in Writing from Vermont College, which she earned in 2003. She also took what she learned and shared it with others: She taught the course Writing Techniques for Teachers at Towson University, and she has taught MFA programs at Vermont College, and at Lesley University.

She says of writing:
"Writing a story is like sending a slender thread out into the world, looking for connection. Are you out there? Who are you? Where are you? I don't know who will catch on to that thread, but I have learned to trust that someone will, even if I never know who (and mostly I don't)."

Deborah (Edwards) Wiles was born on May 7, 1953, in Mobile, Alabama. She is the eldest of three children born to her parents, Marie and T.P. Her dad was in the Air Force, so the family moved a lot, but spent their summers where her dad grew up, in Loudin, Mississippi.

Ms Wiles has four grown children. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, "in a small brick house painted purple, chartreuse and red," with her husband, jazz musician Jim Pearce. When not writing, she spends her time avoiding Atlanta traffic, climbing Stone Mountain, and visiting friends.

Deborah Wiles official site
Deborah Wiles (Wikipedia)
Team Countdown - An Interview with Deborah Wiles and David Levithan
Deborah Wiles Author Study (Scholastic)
Interview with Deborah Wiles, author of The Aurora County All-Stars