Tales From a Teaching Life: Vignettes in Verse by Patricia Austin
Pat and I met years ago when I lived in Louisiana. We’d both signed up through our local SCBWI chapter for a weekend revision retreat with Darcy Pattison. I was in awe. Pat was PUBLISHED. So it was a honor a few months ago to get an email from her asking if I might blurb her newest book, Tales from a Teaching Life. Here’s what I had to say:
I can’t help thinking what a gift this book would have been to me in my early teaching days. Written with a mix of joy and grit, Patricia Austin’s memoir in verse takes us through her years of relatable frustrations and triumphs with real-life kids in classrooms from elementary school to college. This book is an ode to the bonds that make learning happen and the importance of teachers’ life-changing work. I read with heart soaring and tears in my eyes.
If you are an education student or teacher (or have someone like this in your life), I highly recommend finding a copy.
John Adams by David McCullough
This is one of my husband Dan’s favorite books (he’s read McCullough’s Truman and John Adams multiple times), and he thought it was pretty cool my book club picked it recently. John Adams is a substantial book, and I went into it telling myself I didn’t need to remember everything or hold onto every name. I’m happy to report McCullough’s incredibly detailed history was also great storytelling. I learned so much! I enjoyed it immensely!
I’ve always found John Adams to be a refreshingly human Founding Father. He was a warts-and-all man aware of his vanity and tendency to clash with others, but he was profoundly devoted to our country (I’m assuming most reading here are Americans), to duty, and to his dear Abigail. One of the many things that struck me is how lonely and sometimes despairing Adams often was and, at the same time, how he was almost always deeply satisfied with his work. (Even after leaving the presidency pretty disillusioned and done with politics, I would say this was still the case.) Finding his way as an American diplomat, as the first vice president and the like, he was blazing a trail, figuring things out as he took on roles that hadn’t existed before. I loved the complexity of his relationship with Thomas Jefferson. (My impression had been they were enemies that came around toward the end of their lives, but while not always agreeing and sometimes sharing less-than-flattering opinions of each other, there was great respect and affection, too. I’d definitely call it friendship. It was so sad that a warm, supportive letter Jefferson wrote to Adams after Adams was elected president was never sent on the advice of Madison. Madison warned Jefferson never to mix friendship and politics. The letter really would have done Adams good. And it was beautiful to see Adams and Jefferson as old men set their differences aside and rekindle the friendship and respect they had had for each other.)
I loved John and Abigail’s commitment to each other and to their sense of duty to our country (which was sometimes in opposition to their personal happiness). There were too many things to list that I learned, but one I found especially interesting was how in serving a newly-fledged nation overseas, Adams in being away was sometimes out of step with the very people he was representing (because of time and distance).
Dan wants me to read Truman next. Maybe someday. For now, I’m really glad I dug into this one.
How to Write a Poem by Kwame Alexander and Deanna Nikaido, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is a glorious picture book full of wonderful figurative language and imagery and illustrations. It opens like this: Begin with a question / like an acorn waiting for spring. It connects to so many things I tell kids when we talk about writing. I encourage them to “listen to the world” — to stay curious and collect words and ideas and any old thing in a notebook. …Dive deep into the silent sea / of your imagination, the poets tell us. Yes, that’s it exactly! The words have been waiting to slide down your pencil / into your small precious hand.
This is the second time Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet have paired up to create a picture book. Be sure to check out their first, How to Read a Book, just as delightful — Don’t rush through: / Your eyes need / time to taste. / Your soul needs / room to bloom.