A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Clash of the Olympians--The Battle for the Books

Can a book start a war?

I've heard that Abraham Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe with starting the Civil War because she wrote, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton said "the pen is mightier than the sword in his play RICHELIEU. But until a few weeks ago, I didn't realize the extent of social upheaval a book (or a set of books) could create within the confines of my own home.

Let me start out by saying I love to see my kids read. I'm always excited when by first or second grade they get beyond just sounding out words and have moved on to actual books. I love sharing the books I've read with my kids and I love it when they share their books with me. AND I love it when they share books with each other--usually.

And therein lies...
The Battle for the Books

In a far off land known as Olympia (not Olympus) a young maiden fell in love--in love with the tales of a boy named Percy Jackson. (PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS--Series by Rick Riordan)

And she read.

In the same land dwelt her nemesis, older brother, and sometimes avid reader himself. He happened upon one of the tales of Percy Jackson and he fell in...serious enjoyment (he's a teen aged boy, love is a little strong).

The young maiden was mired in basketball and homework and so soon her nemesis overtook her in reading the Tales of Percy Jackson. This caused a problem, nay a war, because although an order was in to the Shop of the Amazons, the Tales were on back order. Therefore when the young maiden's nemesis beat her to the school library (he having first lunch) he was able to get to the next tale of Percy Jackson (book three--THE TITAN'S CURSE) for himself.

And there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Therefore, the mother went on a quest for peace--to locate the next Tale. Alas, the stores were sold out.

The young maiden tried hiding the books from her nemesis but to no avail. The mother tried bargainings and threatenings, but the battles raged. Words like demigod and minotaur became common household words. An argument ensued over whether hippocampi could fly or only swim. After one heated discussion the young maiden told her brother to go to Tartarus. (I had to look it up after I sent her to her room.) During the course of the war a younger sibling took an interest and he began to read the Tales as well. The third book turned to the fourth book and the fourth book turned to the fifth, and war raged on, until the day when both the young maiden and her nemesis had completed all the tales.

And peace ensued. (Until the young maiden was caught hogging the bathroom.)

So who triumphed in the end?


Although peace in the household was sacrificed for a time, the young maiden and her nemesis complete all five of the Tales of Percy Jackson, and their younger sibling is now reading that fateful third tale. (The shop of the Amazons finally came through).

What more could a mother ask for then her children fighting over reading? (Complete sanity in the household not being an option.) They're going to fight anyway, it might as well be over something educational. The younger sibling (9) has developed the same love of reading that his brother and sister have. AND it has opened up a fun discussion between the three of them. They actually have something in common!

Unfortunately the mother is mired down in housework, chasing the young conquerors, and trying to do her own writing. She has to leave the room whenever a reference to Percy Jackson comes up in conversation for fear of uncovering some truth she wants to for herself. (She's only read the first one.)

So this tale comes with a warning...

By all means introduce the PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS into your household, but if you have more than one reader, you might want to get enough copies to avoid The Battle for the Books.

Now that we've made it past the battles I want to know...What books have you shared with your family? What makes a book appeal to several different ages?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hard to Find the Words--Saying Good-bye



Lacking the words to express my gratitude.

Lacking the words to say good-bye.

That's how I felt as I watched my 33 students from Japan and their incredible adult guide, Izumi, board the bus to leave. I know that feeling was reflected in the Japanese students, their host families, and their new friends clinging to them with tears in their eyes. More than one person said to me, "How do you get to love someone so quickly?"

I've thought a lot about that in the last week. How do you get so close to someone when there's a language barrier, a culture barrier, and you only have a short time to spend with them? Maybe the feelings were so intense because we knew we only had one week together, or maybe because we know how far away we'll be from each other. Maybe the feeling comes from the realization that despite all of our differences we're the same.

At the end of the students' last day at Chinook, they were part of a spirit assembly. The Chinook students cheered while the Japanese students showed them their jump rope and martial art skills. Then the gym packed with middle school students got surprisingly quiet as the Japanese students sang. As a gift from the school, all of the Japanese students received a Chinook Middle School t-shirt. Instead of running for the door when bell rang, releasing them for Spring Break, many of the Chinook students stayed. There were hugs and tears on both sides as the kids' said good-bye to their new friends.

It was just the beginning of the good-byes.

The Japanese Students stayed after school to prepare a sayonara party for their host families. They were so nervous. They wanted to do a good job to show their gratitude for the people who had welcomed them into their homes for the week.

The program started with Eri--spokesperson and emcee for the evening. She said, "We hope you forgive if we make mistakes. Time was short to prepare."

The program was both impressive and fun--more jump roping, singing, piano music, dancing, magic tricks, and even a moonwalk that brought on three encores. I could see how proud the host families were of their exchange students, even if they were only part of their family for a week.

After the program, Christie Carlson, the other coordinator, and I handed out certificates to the students and the host families. Student after student came forward with beautifully wrapped gifts for Christie and I. I was overwhelmed, and yes, I cried.

Saturday was the last day with our students. Ours was a whirlwind--trying to fit in everything we wanted to show Mina before she had to leave. We painted eggs, went on an Easter egg hunt, and made a quick trip to Seattle. But the last two hours that she was here were my favorite. Mina and my kids make Japanese candies out of a kind of marzipan clay-dough that she had brought from Japan. They made sushi and ice cream cones, little hot dogs and even a tiny, edible copy of the wii balance board. I loved watching them laugh while they ate each other's creations. As with the rest of the week, sharing and relating and being friends with few words.

Then it was time to go.

Back to the scene in the parking lot. I cried. My kids cried. The students cried. The families cried. As I watched I couldn't help but remember that a few short generations ago my grandparents were at war with these beautiful, respectful, loving people. The relationship between our two countries has come a long way since then. Its my hope that in this one short week we have done something to influence the world for good--that the two groups of teenagers will remember this experience and know that in spite of all of our differences, we are very much the same. That the relationships that were formed this week can be the seeds of greater world peace.

As I try to sum up the feelings of gratitude, joy, and sadness I've experienced this week a phrase I heard from one Japanese student who was struggling to speak English comes to mind:

"Hard to find the words."

Finding Common Ground--Japanese Students at Aspire and Pleasant Glade

When I look back on this week, it's not the differences that stand out. Its the way this group of Japanese students and their American friends worked to find common ground without using words

On Thursday, nine of the students spent their morning at Aspire Middle School. These kids had a host brother or sister at Aspire. While most of the other host siblings got to take their Japanese student with them to school, the Aspire families had to say good-bye at the beginning of the school day. But on Thursday they got to keep their students with them.

Thursday was backwards day at Aspire--a reverse schedule (7th period first), backwards hair-dos, and yes, backwards clothes. Our Japanese friends really enjoyed this, because Japanese schools don't have dress-up or "spirit" days.

Most of the Japanese students started the day in leadership class. To welcome the students and give them a way to associate without a lot of conversation, Mrs. Wisnant had them play games. The first game was a kind of acting out, rock, paper, scissors game, except this was guy, girl, gorilla--a game translated easily in either language. The kids would mingle in a circle until the music stopped then they would have a face off--girl beats gorilla, guy beats girl, gorilla beats guy. Funny posses and funny faces made for a lot of laughing. The other two games saw the students running, sliding, trading places, and jostling for a position in the circle (all in good fun).

During other classes at Aspire, the Japanese students were able to participate without a lot of talking--pantomiming in drama class, dancing a reverse bunny hop, or sharing music through choir, band, and orchestra. By lunchtime the shyness had worn off and the students crowded together to talk and laugh and just be teenagers.

After Aspire all thirty-three got back together for a trip to Pleasant Glade, a grade school. Four third grade classes were waiting to meet the Japanese students. The Japanese students were eager to share their time and talents with the grade school. They taught the third graders origami, made hats with horns, and wrote the kids' names in Japanese.

Smiles, demonstration, and a helping hand were all the communication necessary. The third graders were impressed. I heard questions like, "How many letters do you have to learn in Japan?" and "I bet you could fold a crane really fast."

At the end of the day the Japanese students had added two schools to their list of friends in the United States.