Friday, March 30, 2018

Countdown to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

Second Line at Shadows on the Teche
We are on countdown to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival which begins April 6 in New Iberia, Louisiana.

I am beyond excited about attending this festival.  I've never been to New Iberia and can't wait to explore the area. I have a deep love for the southern part of our state and its history.

The only trouble I'm having is trying to figure out how I'm going to pack everything in that I want to see and do into my time schedule.  Some of the festival events overlap so I'm going to have to pick wisely!  On top of that, there are millions of things to see and do beyond the festival.  So, I'm looking at this as an introductory mission so I can plan future trips.

This article in The New Iberian details the festival and a few of the events.

If I don't do any other event at all, I want to see Ernest Gaines speak.  That, and the visit to The Shadows on the Teche are at the top of my list.  I really want to see the famous autographed door inside the house.

Other intriguing events will include the Dave Robicheaux Haunts and Jaunts tour which will highlight historic sites in New Iberia as well as throughout the parish; the food demonstration on Friday morning will be a great preface to that tour.  The reception Friday night at The Shadows should make for a very full day.

On Saturday is an academic symposium of James Lee Burke's work; Steve will probably go find something else to explore while I do this.  After that, the authors and artists fair along Main Street should fill up the afternoon as well as my book totes, and then Ernest Gaines in the late afternoon, and a party that evening because Louisiana knows how to party!

Those are the events that I am certain I want to do; now I just have to figure out how to fit in Bouree lessons, three film screenings, and the Live Oak Walking Tour along Main Street.  And the Swamp Tour.  And Avery Island.  And the rice mill.  And just sitting still and enjoying the Teche.  And a trip to Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville. I'm getting overwhelmed.

The more I read and learn about the area, the more I want to see and do; there is so much history in New Iberia!

I'm anticipating a great weekend and looking forward to filling my belly with delicious food, making new friends, and learning new things.  Festival organizers and Iberia Travel have been so generous and kind in making this trip possible that I can't wait to put faces with names and enjoy their hospitality!

Why don't you make plans to come, too?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Drink More Water with the Help of Metta Wella

Metta Wella: making drinking water fun again!
While nobody has ever accused me of being a tree-hugging liberal, it is probably true that I do have some tendencies that lend me to be a little bit conscientious about the planet on which I live.  I say this not only in reflection of my last post about the vanishing Louisiana coastline, but primarily in the fact that I am deliberately turning away from the disposable plastic bottle.

For the past year or so I have been working hard to break my addiction to Diet Coke.  Invariably during the teaching day that morning coffee wears off and I'd reach for the caffeine boost of a soda, thinking I was making a healthy choice since it was "diet."


So many chemicals and things I don't know what they are in that stuff...

Anyway, so I upped my morning coffee an extra cup and muscled through the day with bottled water from the vending machine instead of a soda.  When I got tired of paying $1.25 for a bottle of Dasani, I just started refilling the bottles from the fountain, thinking I was so smart and saving all this money.

Then I remembered hearing something about BPAs; when my daughter was pregnant several years ago she was very cautious about using BPA-free products, which was the first time I'd heard of that.

About this time I decided I should probably cut back a bit on the beer: the waistline and the liver are grateful.

Then one day I was emptying the trash cans around the house and the number of plastic water bottles caught my eye.  There must have been fifteen or twenty and I empty trashcans fairly often.

Long story short, I am now in the no-plastic-water-bottle camp.  I have turned now to Metta Wella for my beverage needs!

I did a little research and found that globally one million plastic bottles are bought every minute; that's about 20,000 bottles per second.  And while many communities have recycling programs (my own community included), most of these bottles do not get recycled.  And less than 10% of the plastic bottles you buy come from recycled material.  When plastic bottles are recycled they are used mostly in synthetic clothing, carpeting, plastic bags, and shipping materials, and then those end up in a landfill.  So one way or another the bottles end up in a landfill.

You can trace it on down further and find that eventually this plastic ends up in the groundwater and in the oceans and then you have another problem.

So I decided to opt out of plastic bottles when possible. I turned to Metta Wella for glass and stainless steel infuser bottles; I was attracted to this company primarily because they donate half of their profits to global clean water initiatives like The Water Project and Charity Water.

I love these bottles!  I use two of them: the first one is the double walled stainless travel bottle.  It fits my Keurig and I can fill it up with my morning coffee and know that it will stay hot as long as I need it to.  I love the bamboo exterior because I think it looks cool and it doesn't sweat or get hot when I hold it.  It also has an infuser basket so you could use it for hot or cold teas, or whatever fruit you might want to add.

Metta Wella Malawi traveler bottle

I also use this very pretty glass infuser bottle with a bamboo lid.. It is also double walled and vacuum sealed.  You can use it for both hot and cold beverages but I use it for my afternoon cold water.  I love experimenting with recipes for it, too!  This one is blueberry, raspberry, lemon, and crushed mint.  The stainless steel infuser basket can also hold tea if you wish, or perhaps herbs or spices.  The possibilities are limitless.

Metta Wella Sunday Bottle

I know I can't save the planet with a reusable bottle but at least I know I'm not adding twenty bottles a week to the local landfill and I am making a small contribution to a global clean water initiative.  I can't get that with just any water bottle. Bonus points for making drinking water fun and the personal health benefits from that!

Metta Wella also has a line of teas they offer as well as a subscription service for those.

Give this small, start-up company a try. I'm more than impressed with their product, their mission, and their service.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Metta Wella Affiliate Program.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Louisiana's Vanishing Coast

" disintegrating lace..."

That's how the authors of the NOLA series on Louisiana's vanishing coast describe what's left of the land and marsh that make up our southern parishes.

I've been searching for reliable sources to read so I can learn more about this subject and this NOLA series, partnered with the New York Times, is my starting point. In a series of articles the authors introduce us to various communities and people in south Louisiana who are watching not only their land but also their homes and their culture and way of life disappear.

It's heartbreaking and from this early stage of my reading it doesn't appear there are any clear answers.  It doesn't appear that any amount of money thrown at this problem will be able to solve it.

The series of articles point fingers at a number of culprits: rising sea levels due to climate change, a series of destructive storms, oil companies who built and widened canals but never repaired them when they left, the construction of levees to control the Mississippi, and even plagues of insects and rodents who destroy vegetation.

This article about the community of Jean Lafitte, located just south of New Orleans, chronicles the efforts of the mayor, Timmy Kerner, who has adopted the strategy of improving his community to the point that it would be more economically feasible to save it from erosion than to let it go:

His strategy was to secure so much public investment for Jean Lafitte that it would eventually become too valuable to abandon. In a decade, he had built a 1,300-seat auditorium, a library, a wetlands museum, a civic center and a baseball park. Jean Lafitte did not have a stoplight, but it had a senior center, a medical clinic, an art gallery, a boxing club, a nature trail and a visitor center where animatronic puppets acted out the story of its privateer namesake.  
Some of the facilities had been used sparingly, and many at the grand opening questioned whether the seafood pavilion would be much different. To the mayor that was largely beside the point. What mattered was that the structure existed, that its poured concrete and steel beams made Lafitte that much more permanent. "Do we lose that investment, or do we protect it?" Kerner asked...

The authors, Kevin Sack and John Schwartz, point out that a fourth of our wetlands are already gone and in fifty years 2,000 square miles could also go.  In human terms:

The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit conservation group, calculates that there are 358,000 people and 116,000 houses in Louisiana census tracts that would be swamped in the surge of a catastrophic hurricane by 2062. The Geological Survey predicts that in 200 years the state's wetlands could be gone altogether.

As Sack and Schwartz report it, the community of Jean Lafitte and everything else south of that New Orleans levee has basically been abandoned to the elements with the Corps of Engineers advocating relocation of the people.  But that's not to say that nobody is trying to solve the problem. There are lots of committees, levee boards, ecologists, politicians, environmentalists, and other experts working to find and agree on solutions.  And then there is the ever present problem of funding.

There are so many factors at play in this issue. This NOLA series is a great place to start learning about it, which is what I'm trying to do.

After you read about the community of Jean Lafitte, be sure you read this article about the Leeville community on Bayou Lafourche and the cemeteries that are washing out to sea.  It's heartbreaking.

While there are plenty of problems in Louisiana and we've long been known for our  notorious politicians and various aspects of corruption, (and tell me where, please, will you NOT find that?) this is one issue on which we should all be united.  Whether you believe in global warming or climate change or not, whether you believe this land loss is due to greedy oil companies and their negligence, or whether you believe it's just a natural course of events, what we all need to remember is that this is our state: our culture, our way of life.

There are few places more beautiful in my mind than south Louisiana. The swamps, the bayous, the people and their way of life, is unlike anywhere else.  How can we let this go?

There has got to be a way to restore and preserve our coastline and our state.

If you have a good source or recommendation for further reading on this, please share with me in the comments!

Further Reading:
Insects Feast on Louisiana's Coast (NOLA: Feb. 2018)
Buried at Sea: As cemeteries on Louisiana coast wash away, so does history (NOLA: March 2018)
Our Drowning Coast (NOLA: Feb. 2018)
Why the Master Plan will not Protect Louisiana (LSU Law Center: Feb. 2017)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Currently Reading and Looking for Suggestions

Doesn't everyone have a stack or two of books around their house just waiting to be read?

I have several of these: there's a stack by "my spot" in the living room and a stack by my bed.  There's also another stack on the living room shelf, all just waiting for me to have time to crack the covers.  I'm old school and still prefer paper over digital books, but I do read some on my Kindle app just because it is convenient when I'm on the go.  But really, I thrive on the feel of the paper and the smell of the ink.

I've been on Spring Break this week and my reading has had a decided geographic focus. A couple of weeks ago I read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines which was quite moving and perhaps life changing.  To follow up on that I then read A Gathering of Old Men, also by Ernest Gaines, and for the life of me I can't figure out why I've never read his work before.  I highly recommend both of these books.  To round out my Gaines-a-thon, I have The Tragedy of Brady Sims sitting at the top of my stack to be read next.

Gaines has a way and creating character and atmosphere that transports you to the time and place while creating empathy and new understanding in a way you never knew was lacking.  His works should be included in any study of Southern writers.

Also in my reading this week I am, like a million other people, reading An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.  I'm not finished with it yet, but I am indeed having trouble putting it down.  The writing and the stylistic choices are simply beautiful and I can easily see why this book is captivating readers everywhere right now.  Like Ernest Gaines, Jones has a gift of creating character.  I want so badly to place blame in this novel but because of her deft use of perspective, I just can't do it.

Jumping into non-fiction, I'm also currently reading Teche: A History of Louisiana's Most Famous Bayou by Shane Bernard.  This book came out in November 2016, but should be required reading for any student of Louisiana history.  Bernard goes deep into the history of the region in the first part of the book while the second half of the book is travelogue about his own journey up the Teche in a canoe.  There are lots of maps and photographs throughout the book which are an asset and help the reader see exactly what is being described.  It's a fascinating book.

I'm really interested in finding some good, objective books about the Louisiana wetlands and the vanishing coastline.  I haven't done a lot of research into that and I'm curious but I want to read something by someone without an agenda.  Everything I'm turning up is either by big oil and they're trying to deflect blame or by environmentalists who want to blame global warming or big oil....  I just want something true and objective.  If you have some recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

My break is coming to an end tomorrow and it will be back to work and I'll slowly work my way through the rest of the two books I'm currently reading. The luxurious afternoons of sitting in the swing under the magnolia tree and reading the afternoon away are coming to an end for now.

Tell me what you're reading: I need to build my stacks back up!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What to do in Shreveport/Bossier in March

Spring is upon us and there is a lot to do in Shreveport-Bossier as we ease into the season. 

Here are just a few of the events going on over the next couple of weeks:

March 13 - 17 is 318 Restaurant Week which provides an opportunity to dine at local restaurants at special prices. Participating restaurants create prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner. In addition, five restaurants will be offering an elevated dining experience led by a local, celebrated foodie each night of the 318 Restaurant Week.

March 15 head over to Flying Heart Brewing in Bossier City for Whiskey Tricks.  Find your inner craic with Flying Heart Brewing & Pub and Jaya McSharma! Sample Jameson, Jameson Black Barrel, Caskmates Stout, Caskmates IPA, and Cooper's Croze. Plus enjoy their monthly special; Reuben Pizza. Tickets are $25 until 11:30p 3/14, after that time you will have to purchase them at Flying Heart ($40).

March 17: St. Patty's Day Adopt-a-Thon by Friends of Bossier City Animal Control - Find your new furry friend from 10 - 3 at Bossier Animal Control, 3217 Shed Road in Bossier City.

Also on March 17 Patty in the Plaza 2018 will be from 5-11 at festival plaza downtown.  Ticket info can be found here.

March 19: Fundraiser for Shreveport-Bossier Animal Rescue from 5 - 8 at Newk's, 5423 Youree Drive in Shreveport.  Eat at Newk's and SBAR gets a donation.  Win-win!

March 20:   Girls night out at Heels and Reels at Robinson Film Center, downtown Shreveport.  Watch Emma Stone in her break-through performance. All she wanted was to see what it feels like to be popular, but when a little white lie gets out, Olive’s lily-white reputation gets soiled. She finds her life paralleling the unenviable Hester Prynne's in "The Scarlet Letter."

Also on March 20 you can head to 2John's to see Cole Vosbury and Amanda June from 6-10.

March 23: ARTini Glass Painting at Bossier Arts Council on Barksdale Blvd., Bossier City.
Each year as part of the ARTini fundraiser, artists and community members help paint 300 Martini glasses. Bring a small snack to share and they will provide everything else. There is no cost to attend this event. Students are welcome, but must be at least 12 years old. Registration is NOT required for this event.

Also on March 23 head over to Norton Art Gallery where they will be showing Ferngully: The last Rainforest on the front lawn of the museum for FREE!! Bring your chairs and blankets and enjoy a movie under the stars. Local food trucks will be on hand with yummy treats to enjoy starting at 7:00 PM. Movie begins at 8:00 PM. Food Trucks: Sweetport McCoy's Butcher Block Ono's Traditional Hawaiian Cuisine BeauxJax Mobile Cajun Eatery.

March 24: Fundraiser for Camp Rainmain! The first-ever Corn Dog Busker Arts Festival, hosted by Clark McLendon, will be held, 12-9 p.m., Saturday, March 24 in Bossier City's new East Bank District and Plaza (across the street from the Bossier Arts Council - BAC). This day-long festival will feature free corn dogs and lemonade, with live music buskers performing throughout the plaza. All money raised by performers, as well as any other donations made at the festival, will benefit Camp Rainman of NW Louisiana. There will also be a corn dog-eating contest, which will crown the Corn Dog King and Queen. Admission is FREE!

Also on March 24 is the first Crawfest in Betty Virginia Park.  Crawfest is a FREE ADMISSION, family friendly event held on Saturday March 24, 2018 in Shreveport's historic Betty Virginia Park. This is the first festival of its kind ever to be held in the Park. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the South Highlands Neighborhood Association for improvements in the park. There is an all day line-up of great bands and food trucks.

 March 25:  Come out and celebrate Easter with Rhino and Deuce! Get Easter pictures of your fur baby done by an amazing photographer, take a chance winning raffle baskets, enjoy our costume contest, let your pup take part in our egg hunt, and enjoy food provided by Uneeda Taco.  The event is from 1-5 at Columbia Park in Highland.

If you have an event you'd like included, leave a comment!

Take a Trip to Visit Louisiana's Unique Preservation Sites

Cammie Henry's scrapbook on Shadows-on-the-Teche
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Louisiana. There's no doubt in my mind. The dogwoods and azaleas are beautiful and they are everywhere! Everything is turning green and spring's pastel colors paint our landscape. It's no wonder that we get wanderlust and want to hit the road this time of year. I have a trip to south Louisiana planned in a few weeks and could not be more excited.

In preparation for that trip I went to Natchitoches yesterday to dig into Cammie Henry's archives once again. I have just finished reading Morris Raphael's biography of Weeks Hall, owner of Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation.  

Weeks Hall was a colorful character and reminds me in many ways of Lyle Saxon. The Hall family presence can be dated to the very early 1800s on Bayou Teche with large landholdings and a sugar plantation. The plantation house that remains today was begun in 1831 and completed in 1834 so that makes it contemporary with Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches which was completed in 1833.

As I researched my book, Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation, it was impossible not to fall under the spell of Lyle Saxon as well as Cammie Henry because they were both such vivid people who loved life and lived every moment of their lives. 

 Weeks Hall also falls into this category.  

While both Weeks and Lyle would probably have lived longer if they had taken better care of themselves, they were both a product of their time and they both lived the way they wanted to.  They had a lot of fun, entertained a lot of people, and both made their own unique preservation contribution to Louisiana.  So did Cammie Henry, and let's not overlook Cammie's best friend, Caroline Dormon and her preservation of the Kistachie forest as well as her home, Briarwood..

That all of these people should come together is fascinating to me when I think about the conversations and gatherings they had.  

Weeks Hall is a paradox to me in that he restored this beautiful plantation home and the gardens in New Iberia which naturally attracted tourists and the general public who wanted to see it.  But Weeks also valued his privacy and was a huge practical joker.  Morris Raphael writes that Weeks often walked the gardens in his underwear much to the shock of tourists who happened to be availing themselves of his gardens.  Sometimes people would simply wander into his house, uninvited.

In one one of the letters from Weeks to Cammie Henry dated July 1932 that I read yesterday, he describes encounters with uninvited guests:
I have been locking my gates night and day.  It is now 8:45 p.m. and someone just telephoned.  I answered myself and said I was out.  We have been finding people in the house even. Monday I locked a crowd of fifteen in and made them jump the fence!
Weeks Hall letter to Cammie Henry, 1932

Why is it, dear Aunt Cammie, that people pressure on country people, as you well know, in ways that they would not dare in the cities. Two months ago I had my house and gates locked. I was upstairs and sent the boy to the yard for the dog. A man that I know fairly well had jumped the fence and caught the boy coming in the back door. He made him open the gate, brought in eight people, a suitcase of liquors, and had party in my kitchen for two hours. I had hidden in the garret. When they left I asked the boy to bring up my lunch. They had eaten not only all of that but a ham that I cooked especially and promised to my cousins next door.
Can you imagine?!

Weeks Hall and Lyle Saxon were lifelong friends and both were charming hosts when they wanted to be, apparently, as was Cammie Henry, and all had a sense of responsibility in preservation.

Cammie's efforts in preserving and restoring not only Melrose plantation but the cabins and buildings that she brought there as well as her patronage of artists and writers of the time is invaluable.  Lyle Saxon preserved Louisiana lore and history through his writings for the newspaper as well as through his books, and Weeks Hall, of course, preserved and restored The Shadows.

I'm grateful for all three of these people not only for their preservation of my home state but also for their forward thinking and the records they left behind. They provide an invaluable look at their age and allow us to look into their lives.

If wanderlust strikes you this spring and summer, put both Melrose Plantation and The Shadows on your destination list.  Louisiana is a beautiful place: get out and explore!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Landrieu Pushing His Book on the Backs of the Confederate Monuments

I'm writing this post prior to Mitch Landrieu's appearance tonight on 60 Minutes; I don't plan to watch.

Mayor Landrieu is publicizing his new book which is out March 20 and as the mayor blusters and pontificates all over the media, one can't help but consider how he relished the monument drama as fuel for future book sales.

This week he spoke to the press about his plans for the sites in New Orleans that previously held Confederate monuments.  It's been about a year since Landrieu had four monuments removed: the monument at Liberty Place was taken in the dead of night. In the following days and weeks Landrieu also removed those of  Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, leaving blighted public areas and empty pedestals in their place. 

During Mardi Gras, he placed a ring of porta-potties around Lee Circle.

The whole issue still makes me angry when I think about it.  My position has always been that these monuments represent history and to destroy public art does not change that history or make it disappear.  Landrieu never engaged the opposing side in any of his plans, an effort that certainly would have been better for the city and reduced tension.  But that wouldn't have sold as many books.

At these sites, Mayor Landrieu plans to place an American flag where the Jefferson Davis monument stood.  As for Lee Circle, he's deferring that to others to decide.  At the Beauregard site, the City Park Improvement Association will landscape and clean up the area and the pedestal will be removed.  Nothing will go where the Liberty Place monument was.

Landrieu says that those companies who didn't make their equipment available to him to remove the statues were practicing "industrial racism" and he continues to insult the ancestors of a great number of southerners:

"Really what these monuments were, were a lie," Landrieu told Cooper on "60 Minutes. "Robert E. Lee was used as an example to send a message to the rest of the country, and to all the people that lived here, that the Confederacy was a noble cause. And that's just not true."

It's difficult to know what to say to people who refuse to see both sides of history.  And I'm a little embarrassed for him for being so blind and uninformed.

The entire monument removal fiasco was questionable on many levels and many questioned various legal aspects of the project, including who paid for the removal, why city workers were used to remove the monuments, and who was behind the foundation that funded part of the removal.

He said the monuments belong in museums but a year later they are still crated up in some city warehouse.

That Landrieu is kicking the can down the road with regard to the placement of the monuments themselves should surprise no one.  As Mike Bayham points out, Landrieu wants to go on his book tour as the guy who removed the monuments, "not rearranged them."

But you can rest assured that whenever (or if ever) Davis, et al leave the city warehouse, Landrieu will be basking in the klieg lights of the media to criticize wherever they go, because that’s his racket and sole source of relevancy in the national media. 
Instead of transferring the statues to an appropriate historic venue that would secure and maintain them, New Orleans is going to be treated to a new round of acrimonious bickering in shouting matches euphemistically labeled “listening sessions”, with the fringes of both sides being prominently featured by the media. Dragging things out benefits Landrieu’s national stature, though not the incoming New Orleans government, which should be focused on the quality of life matters that will be left festering on their doorstep. 

While New Orleans is one of the most historic, vibrant, and beautiful cities in the South, it has suffered greatly under Landrieu's tenure.  Crime has been out of control and the mayor has made little effort to do anything about that.  He is now a lame duck as he prepares to step aside for the new mayor elect, LaToya Cantrell, a Democrat who won the election with 60.4% of the vote.

One hopes that the incoming administration will deal with this issue with more finesse than Landrieu has done.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Life Lessons from Ernest Gaines and A Lesson Before Dying

In anticipation of my upcoming trip to New Iberia to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, I have spent the past week reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines.

Mr. Gaines will be the featured guest at the festival and I want to read his works before I potentially meet him. The book was published in 1993 and for some reason I've never read it.  As much as I love Southern Literature and Southern writers, I can't fathom how this book slipped by me.  Now that I've read this book I am afraid I will be totally speechless in this man's presence.

I sobbed through the last twenty pages.  It took me three days to finish them.

In my twenty-two year career as an educator, I've known many, many kids like Jefferson.  I've know lots of Grants, too.

The setting of the novel is the Jim Crow south. Jefferson is twenty-one years old and sentenced to death for his presence at the murder of a local store keeper. The public defender calls Jefferson a mere "hog" during the trial and it becomes Grant's role to encourage Jefferson to die like a man, not like a hog.  Grant is reluctant to take this assignment on but his aunt won't take no for an answer.

Grant is a teacher; he teaches the plantation children who live in the quarter. 

As I read, I kept thinking about education. Grant went to college, got a degree, and returned to the quarter to live with his aunt and teach the children, yet he dreams of running away and starting a new life. Jefferson, on the other hand, is semi-literate and spent his life working in the fields.  Would education have saved him? Did it save Grant?

As I approached those last twenty pages all I could think of was "I teach this kid.  I have Jefferson in my classroom every year.  At least one of him, sometimes more," and by that I mean simply kids that sometimes end up in places they never intended and sometimes through no fault of their own. Life happens. What's going to happen to them?  Are we ensuring that all of our kids, every one of them, are equipped with the life skills they need to survive?  Are we doing our best by them?

In my long career in public education I can honestly say that it's not the same profession now that it used to be.  That's good in some ways and in other ways not so much.  While raising expectations for our students is great, I have real concerns about our "test and assess" culture that has come to define education and I have had kids tell me more and more often that all they feel like they are learning is how to test.  That breaks my heart.

So I try harder to engage and to make our scripted curriculum relevant and meaningful to them. Through the years, with more and more test prep added into the curriculum, it becomes harder and harder.

Kids like Jefferson sit in every classroom across the country.  Are we helping them by endlessly asking them to explain why they picked C over A and to justify that answer?  It frustrates me.  Is this a life skill they need or are we just lining the pockets of test makers?

As educators, we've been told that the shift from novels and books in ELA classes is permanent and that we will likely never return to teaching entire novels in class any longer.  (Kids can read them on their own, we are told.)  That makes me sad because that means that we lose Grant Wiggins, Atticus Finch, Huckleberry Finn, and thousands of other characters who inspire and through whom we vicariously can live and learn.  Are we doing these kids any favors by this?  I'm no longer sure.

As I read the last twenty pages of A Lesson Before Dying, through my tears I picked up my phone and sent a message to an educator friend who is equally passionate about kids and literature.  "I will never understand people who don't read," I said.  "The places they'll never go, people they'll never meet, and things they'll never feel is stunning."  Deep in my heart I believe this.

Through reading we learn empathy and compassion. That printed words on a page can touch a person so deeply they are moved to tears is amazing to me.  Equally important, words on a page can make us angry enough to fight for change, can take us to places we will perhaps never visit, can introduce us to role models, anti-heroes, innocence of spirit, purity of heart, and can teach us new ways of looking at the world.

I lived almost fifty-nine years having never met Grant Wiggins or Jefferson, but now my life is richer and forever changed because I did.

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