A Peculiar Book Review 

Two years ago,  I won a classroom library of about 150 brand new beautiful young adult literature books at a district professional development training session. Since then I’ve been able to add a second full library collection, and many of my own copies. 

I’ve scrounged up bookshelves from surplus, Craigslist, garage sales, and the dusty corners of the garage. At the end of last year, I entered each isbn# into an online classroom library for individual electronic check out, so hopefully I’ll be able to easily track the books–and get them returned! We haven’t gotten to that point yet this year, so we’ll see how it goes.  

Since then I’ve planned to read a different ya novel every month, on top of my teaching duties, but I admit I’ve heavily failed. Best laid plans, and all that. But I was able to read a few, one of which was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

I fully enjoyed this part fantasy part science fiction part historical novel part thriller. You can find a good summary elsewhere on the webbernet, but my favorite aspect is that Riggs has taken actual fabulous photos found in antique stores–you know the ones that make you wonder whose baby that is or the story behind that couple, and why it’s in an antique store instead of  displayed as a cherished family hierloom–only these are the weird ones, 

and he’s crafted background stories that connect like the old erector sets to formulate this funky, creepy tale.

Technically, I give Riggs a pass for a few raggedy seams because he’s so creative. These improve in each book that follows Miss Peregrine’s to complete the series. Riggs spins a story I didn’t want to put down; I can only imagine it’s that much more fun for kids.

 I don’t subscribe to the “it doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read” mantra; there are concepts and images that have no business in young minds. But if it’s age appropriate, absolutely. This series is probably best for age 12 and up. There are a few adolescent scenes and scary monsters. There may be some curse words. I tend to be conservative in my assessments. 

I’ve been planning to use old pictures as prompts for my students when I can work them in, which certainly isn’t a new approach, but I haven’t employed it before. I’m excited to give it a shot and watch creativity blossom. 

If you’re looking for a book for a young person, pick up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and enjoy it first – then give it to your kids.

P. S. Skip the movie. It’s rather terrible. 

Adventures in Rome: Priceless

People don’t enter the teaching profession to make money. Obviously, we want a pay check, but with the level of education required in many states (Master’s degree) and the number of hours we contribute, we’d be making far more in the private sector putting our skills and passion to work. And let me just squelch right now the oft-claimed, “at least you get summers off.” True, kinda. If we aren’t going to training or working second jobs. But we also don’t get paid for the summer. Our paychecks are divided into twelve payments so that we receive summer paychecks, but we are only paid for the school year. Also, we don’t get paid overtime. I usually put in between 50-55 hours per week.

Anyway, it isn’t lucrative. So when I decided to celebrate my youngest’s university graduation this summer with a trip to Italy, it was a decision I didn’t take lightly. It was expensive. I came up with all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t. Briefly. And then the most important reason blazed: if not now, when? Soon my baby will start a career that will possibly take her far away and keep her busy. Then marriage and babies and I’m not getting any younger, so yes, now.

I lived in Vicenza, Italy for about three years, 24 years ago. It’s where my son learned to walk, and where I carried my daughter until a few weeks before her birthday. So this trip was a sort of an emotional homecoming for me, too.
We spent 18 glorious days luxuriating in the Ligurian Sea, steeping in ancient art, feasting on local cuisine, and hiking urban streets and rural trails.

We started in Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Obviously, the layout of the city isn’t different from when I was there before. What has changed is the commercialization and focus on tourism. I remember walking right into all the sites without waiting in line – except the Vatican. But even that line has grown exponentially. It really just blew my mind. As a stay at home mom on a soldier’s salary long ago, I got to look at sites from the outside, but rarely could we afford to go in. So I decided that this time we were going to go in and see everything. I sprung for good tours that skipped the general admission lines. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is absolutely worth it.

Vatican museum
St. Peter’s Basilica

The Bocca della Verita used to be very open and easy to access. Now it’s all closed in with scaffolding and an attendant, and the line was just wicked in the hot July sun. We stood there wilting for about an hour with temps in the mid-90s.

Bocca della Verita

When touring, I found the best way to stay sane is to be flexible. Set a few non-negotiable tours and visits (plan far ahead because many sites require reservations, even with general admission), but then relax and simply enjoy whatever circumstance arises.

The Coliseum
Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona
Palatine Hill
Circus Maximus
The Tiber River
View from the Castel Sant’Angelo
The Pieta

Eat. Everything.

Eggplant pasta
Spaghetti carbonara (I think)
Fig and prosciutto lasagna
Caprese Sandwich
Pannacotta
Tartufo
Pistachio and chocolate Cannoli
Canneloni

Clearly, I could write several posts about the food alone. We agreed before we left that there would be no discussing diet or calories at any point in our trip, and that eating local cuisine was as much a part of travel as getting there. We fully indulged. The best new thing we discovered is the afternoon apertif. Most restaurants serve free little nibbles when you buy a drink around five or so. We fell in love with Aperol spritz, a lovely concoction of orange bitters, prosecco, and bubble water. My favorite memories will be finally sitting down after a full day of walking, climbing, standing, and sweating, (we averaged ten miles per day) and reveling in the sweet refreshment. Usually we got chips or olives and crackers.

Aperol spritz

I do not regret anything I spent money on for this trip. Sure, there are things I learned later that could have saved money, and prior planning and communication that should have occurred, and travel arrangements that had to be changed and dollars forfeited. But I got to experience moments of my daughter’s cultural awakening and understanding. We shared laughter, silliness, camaraderie, (stress and patience, too) as women, that we may never have otherwise known. Worth it? Absolutely priceless.