Time for a Book: “A Psalm for the Wild-Built” By Chambers

Evening In the City / Naomi's Pictures

Timing is everything, right?

In light of all that has been going on recently, listening to the audiobook “A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers was just what I needed.

I really enjoyed putting on my headphones and spending four hours (it’s a short book!) in a world where:

  • people and nature live in harmony.  I don’t care if it’s a naive or unrealistic vision. It’s nice to “spend” some time in such a world. A world in which “going green” doesn’t mean living as people did in medieval times.
  • drinking tea is important. It’s a world in which it is acknowledged that people need to take some time out and drink tea.
  •  a young person taking a journey into the wild to find themselves (plural is used in the book)  is 29, not 18, which makes a lot of sense nowadays. In addition, it’s no spoiler to say that the young person in the wilderness does not die.
  • there is a super cute robot!
Going its own way / Naomi’s Photos

And…

I enjoyed the style of writing. In fact, I have placed a hold on the next book (it’s a duology, a two-part series) on Libby. I don’t mind waiting a while – I prefer not to read two books in a row by the same author.

Oh! One last thing:

Having a friend is always a good thing – that takeaway is absolutely true!

 

Blues in my High School EFL Class

Reflecting on the color blue… Naomi’s Photos
Two Blue Checkmarks

If there is something I’m not using this year because I CHOSE not to do so, are WhatsApp Groups (or broadcast lists) for each of my classes. I spent too much energy, wasted energy, trying to get certain students to actually read the short messages I sent.  I then had to keep track of who had read a message and who didn’t. To add to the confusion, in some cases, a student actually had read a message but I remained unaware of the fact because the two blue checkmarks failed to appear on my screen at all (he/she read the message without opening it).  The students say they are inundated with WhatsApp groups and cannot keep track of their messages and frankly my colleagues with young children make the same complaint.

Complaining… Naomi’s Photos

So….

* Simple announcements such as “There will be no lesson tomorrow at 09:00” – are sent to one of the students to pass on.  That seems to work.

* My classes of Deaf and hard-of-hearing students are small.  I copy a prewritten message, add a name and send it. Messages with a name elicit a slightly higher percentage of responses.  I resorted to sending question marks ( “? ? ? “) to three nonresponding students this year,  and two of them actually apologized for not answering.  I had written words of praise and encouragement, I wanted them to see them! The third student didn’t see the question marks either…

* I’ve completely stopped sending reminders before tests – reminders such as “bring a pen”, “bring your dictionary”, etc. The ones who need the reminders aren’t the ones who read the messages anyway…

You wanted yellow? Plenty of yellow here! Naomi’s Photos

BLUE on YELLOW

Fact – Some struggling students who have trouble reading, find it easier to read dark blue letters on a pale yellow background. This particular contrast is helpful in certain cases.

Fact – There are many struggling students for whom the SIDE EFFECTS of the contrasting colors make a difference. It’s not that the contrast is directly addressing the source of their difficulties, rather it’s a helpful step in convincing new students that we are truly trying to help them.  When the students see that you made a special worksheet just for them, used scissors to cut their reading passage into paragraphs so that it wouldn’t be overwhelming and even gave them a personal set of flashcards they begin, slowly, to trust you. Trust is crucial…

Here are two samples of such worksheets (the yellow color isn’t as pale as I would like)

All about YOU 2            All about YOU

Head towards the light! Naomi’s photos

 

*** The new reading glasses I wear around my neck are blue, and their case is too (Monet’s Water Lillies, lots of blue)! As I’ve worn multifocal glasses for many years, having reading glasses is a big change for me.

 

Feeling Blue

My multi-level, personalized learning center is still reeling from the surprise closure of the learning management system I had been using, Edmodo.  Imagine Google Classroom, but free and very easy to use. It turned out that a small class, one teacher, cannot use Google Classroom. So, thanks to the support of my principal, I’ve begun using a combination of Wakelet (free) and TeacherMade (an inexpensive subscription). While this combination overlaps with a large percentage of the functions I used to have, and both are very user-friendly, the material needs to be organized and posted! I had TEN YEARS worth of organized material there!  All the new 10th graders have heard of Edmodo, as I keep saying things like: “We have a digital version of this, you can sit at the computer… oh wait, we actually don’t… Not yet…

That makes me feel blue…

But…

Onward! Naomi’s Photos

Blue Skies and Blue Waters actually don’t make me feel blue at all – quite the opposite!

 

WHO Were You, DORA? A Writing Competition for Love Stories Gives a “Voice” to Three “Forgotten Women”

Qוuirks in time – old letters turn into voices in the present… Naomi’s Photos

I received a surprising letter a few days ago.

I was informed that a writing competition of short love stories inspired by historic letters, had recently taken place.  Someone was inspired by the historic letter I had posted and wrote a short love story, which won first place.

The entries are still not available to the public. I haven’t read the story yet.  Nonetheless, I feel that this story has given a “forgotten woman” from the past, a voice in the present day.

To me, the fact that this short story came into existence actually highlights a line with TWO unhappy women at either end, in addition to an ornery woman in between.

It’s ironic that the historic letter inspired a love story, considering the lives of these two women, but that’s the beauty of art – a moment captured in time can create something that wasn’t there in real life.

Distorted shadows are all that remain… Naomi’s Photos
Dora

Back in 2016  I began writing a series of posts in which I, with crowdsourcing help, tried to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll (up to 1940) in what was then Poland. The goal was to discover what I could of the short LIFE she lived in Brest, Belarus (then Poland) before its violent end,  most likely on October 15, 1942,  aged 22, at nearby Bronnaya Gora.   ( To see the first post of the series and follow the discoveries, click here:   Who Were You, Dora, One.)

Dora’s life was short and unhappy, we’ll never know if she even experienced her first kiss. Her letters don’t mention anyone – in the period before the ghetto she cared for the house and her father, who perished along with her.

Dora’s letters were written to her much older step-sister Libby/Lillian, who had immigrated to New York when Dora was a child.

The guardian of “lost voices”… Naomi’s Photos
Libby/Lillan

The fact that Lillian kept Dora’s letters isn’t so surprising. At first, they must have been a connection to her past. Then, a memorial to those who perished.

Perhaps having created a physical space to keep letters, Lillian then kept additional letters, from other relatives,  including one from a 16-year-old girl named Haya.

A girl living in a farm school, in the soon-to-become Israel.

What I find mind-boggling is the fact that despite the woman being someone who was, to put it politely,  not known for being warm or “grandmotherly”, was fortunate enough not to have all her old papers chucked into a bin when her cousins’ children cleaned out her apartment after she passed away.

They kept the letters.

Letters that years later made a long journey all the way to me, thanks to them.

Absolutely amazing.

There was a time when her future seemed brighter… Naomi’s Photos
Haya

Haya’s letter is dated March 8, 1948.

A dramatic period of change – 3 years after WWII, two months before the Declaration of Independence.

It’s a lovely little letter from a girl describing life at an all-girls farm school in central Israel at that time.

The teenagers studied for about 3 hours every morning and then did farm work for another five hours. There were two groups of young people  – new adolescent immigrants who needed a stable place in which to adjust to their new lives before moving on, and the “local” girls for whom this was their boarding school (though Haya herself immigrated when she was three years old).

They raised Eucalyptus trees at the school. Haya describes how everyone pitched in to fill an order and get SIX THOUSAND  Eucalyptus trees destined for replanting in the arid Negev area out on time.

In the evenings they had gym classes and choir practice. They had a youth movement – sometimes they had fun activities, while other times they discussed current events.

An interesting letter from a historic point of view, though I never would have expected it to inspire a love story!

Letter writing was once “a thing” … (Naomi’s Photos)

I posted the letter on a site called Otzarot – a History in Letters. A national letter archive, in Hebrew. The founders want to show history through the eyes of “regular people”, the kind of people whose lives never made it into newspapers.

A direct link to Haya’s letter, in Hebrew

I posted the letter because I hoped it would somehow let her leave some mark that she was really here.

Haya’s life was a sad one. After a brief, disastrous marriage she became a recluse, working at night and barely interacting with the world.

I  am grateful to the organizers of the story competition. Without having read the short story that the letter inspired, I’m moved that Haya’s letter, written all those years ago, was read and that her existence was remembered.

For me, that is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

EFL Video Lessons for ALL Ages – One New Link to Bind Them All!

Look inside and see! Naomi’s Photos

Moving digital platforms is like moving to a new home – you have to sort your possessions, see what you would like to keep, what needs repairing, and what should be thrown out.

I’ve already sorted a large percentage of my EFL video lessons, so I’m sharing the link here today.

(There are still some videos waiting to be “unpacked”…)

The collection is literally for all ages.

The videos are not divided according to age or level, because there is no “right way” to divide them.

It all depends…

You have to stop for a while and choose what to take with you / Naomi’s Photos

The video “The Egghunt”  is clearly meant for younger children, in fact, it is the only video lesson I made explicitly for that age.  The content is too “young” to use with my Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students, even if the task might be just right for some of them.

However, the “Simon’s Cat” videos work with both younger students and teens, so it all depends on the language aspects you think are suitable for your purpose.

*** The short video lesson “Simon’s Cat – Expectations”, highlighting the verb “to expect” is brand new!

In comparison, the crazy knitting video, which appears in the “Chunks in Context” lesson, uses vocabulary from the “Band 3 vocabulary list” so that does serve as some indication of level…

The only video that is long (10 minutes!!) is there for a reason. Teachers might choose to show their classes the film “A silent Melody”  to students as a way to bring up the topic of inclusion. Regardless of the task that I added with the video.

All other videos are short ones!

So many rooms to go through and pack up, LOL! Naomi’s Photos

In short, many of the other videos can be used for a wide variety of ages.

You will just have to browse and see which ones are right for you!

Here is the link.  I will be posting more!

***Important – In some cases, you will see a form for submitting the task. YOUR students cannot answer using the forms I have posted, their replies will get to me…

https://wakelet.com/wake/_x1zY7gQIuRlIY67BZx1e

New School Year? Seeking “Islands of Stability” Amid the Changes

Which set of keys is the right one for this year? Naomi’s Photos

“Are you sure Teacher T.  didn’t have a baby? I don’t know what to write for someone who moved to a new apartment”, asked one of my 10th-grade students near the end of the previous school year.

“Just write HAPPY BIRTHDAY! – that works for everything” advised another.

As I launched into my “greetings/best wishes lesson”,  I hoped to recreate the lesson we had several years ago when the aforementioned Teacher T. actually did have a baby: “Students Writing for an Authentic Audience Affords a Peek into their Hearts”.

The students back in 2018 were motivated to write, we practiced vocabulary, grammar, and syntax in context. In addition, we focused on  PRAGMATICS, which is something my Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students certainly need to work on.

Well,…

It wasn’t a repeat performance.

I hear you!
Naomi’s Photos

For starters,  moving to a new apartment clearly doesn’t tug at students’ heartstrings the same way that having a new baby does.

I understood that but nonetheless, I handed out whiteboard markers, wrote a suitable title on the board, and attempted to inspire the students by acting out how pleased the teacher would be when she arrived at class and found all these good wishes on the board.

One student actually started off on the right track – he wanted to write: HAVE A GOOD MOOD APARTMENT! So that led to the kind of educational discussion I was hoping to have.

But then a student literally stood with her hands on her hips, gave me a sort of “Are you kidding me” look, and said very emphatically:

“She knows Hebrew.

I know Hebrew.

And YOU want ME to write to her in ENGLISH?!”

She proceeded to shake her head sorrowfully…

The big drop… Naomi’s Photos

The OLD teacher in me immediately began thinking:

“Which of our old “Writing for an Authentic Audience” projects was worth revisiting? Or should I look into new options?  Perhaps we could…”

These thoughts were drowned out by the NEW teacher in me shouting:

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

This past year was really difficult, despite being back in class. It was a struggle to have a sense of continuity when we actually never had the allotted number of lessons a week. Even those students who didn’t feel the need to skip at least one day of school a week were often absent due to class excursions, lectures, exams in other subjects / getting tutoring hours for upcoming exams in other subjects.

And of course, some students were also absent due to illness. I was too, as a matter of fact. The pandemic hasn’t disappeared yet…

Turbulence… Naomi’s Photos

The NEW teacher in me says “focus on building “islands of stability before thinking about anything else. ”

It doesn’t matter that my summer tradition has always been to find/learn some new tweak, practice, routine, or different take to start a new school year with.

I need to figure out how to bring back what actually worked well before the pandemic hit and was lost or dramatically downsized.

Look back, not forward, before this school year begins.

How’s that for being open to change?

There are tunnels on the road ahead… Naomi’s Photos

Since I teach in a multi-level, mixed-grade learning center, some examples of what I would like to see  once again in class:

… students coming to class, actually remembering what they are working on and independently pulling out the material they need.

… students practicing their vocabulary on Quizlet without asking what the icon for Quizlet looks like …

… getting the WORD STATION up and running again and ensuring the students use it regularly without asking me what to do …

You can read about that “work station” here:                  https://visualisingideas.edublogs.org/2010/12/25/y-a-l-p-10-minute-system-part-2/

… reviving the lessons involving the “look up and read” method adapted from John Fanselow’s book “Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning”.

You can read about that here: https://visualisingideas.edublogs.org/2018/04/22/one-tweak-at-a-time-reflecting-on-fanselows-textbook-for-efl-teachers-2-read-and-look-up/

And…

of course…

… seeing students continue to use the one thing that actually was an island of stability for both the students and I throughout the years of teaching alongside a pandemic (including the distance learning part!) , the tool that enabled each student to log on and only see his/her personal assignments, called…

AARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All gone… Naomi’s Photos

The wonderful off-the-school-grid Learning Management System I rely on, Edmodo, is shutting down.

For good.

It was just announced – in Mid August!

School begins Sept. 1st.

I’ve been using it for at least 10 years and have a vast amount of material organized into small units, for different groups, levels and individual students. I even have a small pedagogical library there!

The one thing that was not harmed by the pandemic (on the contrary!) is disappearing.

Writing for an authentic audience?

That will have to wait.

I’m going back to basics first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for a Book! “An Unnecessary Woman” by R. Alameddine

Recording the passing of time… Naomi’s Photos  (Taken in the Beyer Watch & Clock Museum)

Do you know the genre of books in which a troubled/sad/lonely person’s life improves dramatically, as you read, mainly because he/she began reading books?

This isn’t that kind of book.

The narrator of this book has read voraciously for most of her 72 years. These books, their characters, and authors (not to mention some composers) have become the lenses through which she views life, struggles to make sense of life, or perhaps escapes from it.

This comes with a price.

And Aaliya, the narrator knows it well. Immersing herself in literature from around the world does not make her any less “an unnecessary woman” – a point she examines, perhaps “discusses” with her literary world.

Aaliya not only reads books but is a “closet translator” (completed translations are boxed away) – there are fascinating commentaries on translations and the process of translating.

But that’s not all there is in this book.

What you see on the clock depends on your perspective… Naomi’s Photos (Taken in the Beyer Watch & Clock Museum)

A life unfolds.

In a city.

Books and the City – that could be a subtitle.

Aaliya has spent all of her life in Beirut. Since she was born in the late 30s, she has lived through a great many very turbulent times. She watches the changes in her city, noticing, commenting, and often criticizing.

In fact, every element of life in the city, along with her colorful neighbors her relatives, and every character in Aaliya’s life, quite literally, comes under scrutiny using an amazing variety of literary characters.

The ending surprised me, in a good way.

I really enjoyed reading this book!

The unique style of writing drew me in immediately!

I’m not going to give you any more details – the author does it so much better than I, so why spoil the experience for yourself?

ENJOY!

 

 

Asking the Narrator of a Story to “CHAT” with the Students Directly

“I was prepared to dislike Max Kelada even before I knew him”.

W. Somerset Maugham’s opening sentence of the story “Mr. Know All’ is crystal clear.

This is a story dealing with prejudices.

I should be saying:

“Great, Naomi. You already have a pre-reading task ready on “being too quick to judge”, go prepare something else for the upcoming school year”.

I try to convince myself:

“You even posted about the importance of focusing on the central idea of the story in the pre-reading task, including a quote from a reading expert! Move on!” (Shifting the focus of pre-reading tasks, August 2018)

But I can’t.

Well, I use a computer… (Naomi’s Photos)

 

Look at the next sentence:

“The war had just finished and the passenger traffic in the ocean-going liners was heavy”.

The war in question is World War 1.

You may think that it doesn’t really matter that my Deaf and hard-of-hearing students haven’t a clue as to when that war ended (some are a bit surprised that there was a WW1 even though the numbering should have been a clue…) but it actually matters a great deal.

For starters, if I don’t emphasize the time frame my students cannot fathom why the characters are spending two weeks on a ship instead of hopping on a plane, spending their time ignoring the other passengers.

There would be no drama without the journey on the ship.

Not a ship. Let’s imagine a horse and buggy, ok? Naomi’s Photos

But then my students get the whole issue of nationalities mixed up.

And it all comes up in the first paragraph.

The narrator was traveling from San Francisco to Yokohama

My students assume the narrator was American (once we ensure everyone knows where these cities are located…) because who else travels from San Francisco?

After my students have already jumped to conclusions it’s much harder for them to internalize the information about the British Empire and who is or isn’t a real “British Gentleman”.

At least someone is sure of himself! Naomi’s Photos

“… I should have looked upon it with less dismay if my fellow passenger’s name had been Smith or Brown.”

Those surnames do not indicate any nationality at all to my students…

In short, I created a new slideshow.

While there are a few spaces where students are required to fill in the missing information (“look it up, students!!), this is not a task meant to be completed independently, without teacher involvement.

While difficult vocabulary items can be glossed, setting the stage for the story is crucial.

Now I can work on updating the glossary…

Here is the slideshow.

Pre Reading Mr Know All.

At Last! An Authentic Conversation with Students about Making Mistakes

Sports Day! Naomi’s Photos

There aren’t many authentic opportunities for a teacher in the school system to truly model seeing mistakes as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

You know what I’m talking about.

We teachers are always being told that we should teach the students to try, fail, and learn from their mistakes.

To view mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Important, right?

A truly important message for my Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students learning English as a foreign language.

Yet we are expected to get this message across in a school system geared toward good grades and “getting it right”. A system in which the students trust me to know the material I am teaching them well.

So how do I show my students, at least occasionally, in an authentic way,  how I make mistakes, try to understand what went wrong, and try again? And again and again?

EUREKA!

Failing doesn’t mean falling… (Naomi’s photos)

Fast forward to the day after our recent annual national sports tournament day, for schools with programs for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students from around the country.

We’re back at school.

One 10th grade student catches me coming down the stairs on the way to the classroom:

(No hello first…)

” Why didn’t you take a picture of me when I was ‘doing’ the penalty kick?!! The teacher of the other school took pictures of her students! I saw you with the camera by the football field!”

The second 10th-grade student said “Hello” and “Good Morning”. And then (more politely)  wanted to know why I only sent her one photograph of herself at the netball game,  (standing still!) when she clearly saw me taking lots of pictures of her during the first part of the game.

You need to learn to use the keys to unlock the right doors… Naomi’s Photos

Both students got the same candid reply:

“You know, I’m trying to learn artistic photography with a real camera (as opposed to a cell phone camera) and it was really hard for me to take pictures when you were moving so fast. Most of my photos were awful. You still have two more years at the high school. I hope you participate in lots of school events and I’ll keep trying. Maybe in the future, I’ll succeed in taking a good picture of you”.

Their reactions?

The “net-ball girl” – “Okay, I’ll be competing again. You keep practicing and try again. I got one picture, that’s a good start”.

The “soccer boy” – “Well, I’m not blaming you but if it’s hard you should practice. Maybe next year you’ll do better”.

Maybe I will take better photos of sports events and other school activities next year.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, bringing my camera will work out well!


Additional notes:

  • I ALSO told the “soccer boy” that I got hit by a soccer ball kicked directly at my leg while standing by the field, which didn’t encourage me to stick around. He didn’t really find that detail relevant… A true photographer doesn’t let small discomforts get in his/her way, right?
  • One of the few “action photographs” I do have from the girls’ netball game is actually a funny one of a boy who barged in during the warmup time and caught the ball! You aren’t going to see it though – I don’t post pictures of my students anywhere online.

“Grammar Pens” Caught in a Teacher’s Self “Ping Pong”

What’s the next move? Naomi’s Photos

Ping: “Oh Pong, listen to this! I’ve got a new idea for the next school year. Let’s use…”

Pong (interrupting):  Now hold it right there. Did you just say a new idea? As in a NEW IDEA? Weren’t you the teacher complaining about feeling overwhelmed and tired?

Ping: That was me…

Pong: So convince me why I should even LISTEN to this new idea when you can stick with what you already have. Go ahead, let’s see what you can come up with.

Ping: It doesn’t require much teacher preparation time.

Pong: Not bad. Keep going.

Ping: Making small changes, even “tweaks” to the routine always boosts my work-related motivation level, and I really need some of that after this school year.

And the students might learn something…

Pong: Okay, okay, good points. Let’s hear the new idea.

Hear my words…
Naomi’s Photos

Ping: You see, we’ll have “Grammar Pens” to… (Pong interrupts)

Pong: Wait a minute. “Grammar Pencils” are “A THING”. You can Google them and find sites to purchase them from. Those pencils have confusing grammar points on them, such as “to, two & too” or “there, their and they’re”. Are you already planning out-of-pocket purchases for the English Room?!!

PIng: No, no, calm down. Absolutely not. This idea was just inspired by those products. Our students prefer pens and purchasing things like pencils makes no sense as they aren’t made for long-term use.

Pong: Whew… (sighs in relief).

Ping: You know those students who never bring a pen to class? I once read that in such cases a student should leave something of his/hers until the pen is returned at the end of the lesson. Such a method would be problematic to implement with some of our Deaf and hard-of-hearing adolescents (I don’t what anyone taking off their belt, for example!). However,  I thought that perhaps I could still turn the situation into an educational experience.

Is that Gandalf?
Naomi’s Photos

So, before I let them use one of the English Room pens, they will have to tell me what the difference is between your/you’re,   its/it’s,  have/has, etc. I can add confusing vocab items such as long/no longer too.

Pong: What happens if they don’t know the answer?

Ping: We do what we always do, unrelated to this particular idea – I tell the student, and then the student has to tell it back to me.

Pong: How are you going to emboss/ engrave the target words onto the pens?

Ping:  I’M NOT!  Even if I knew how to do such a thing I wouldn’t.  It’s the same principle that holds true for playing board games in EFL lessons – you don’t want the target item to appear in a fixed place. On a board game, if an instruction or a vocabulary item is written in the top left corner, the students quickly memorize what they need to say or do when they reach that corner, and stop reading the words written.  If the words are permanently on “the red pen”, or the “large pen”, the students will just use such cues to retrieve an answer without focusing on the words written.  The cards can’t have numbers on them, for the same reason.

I’ll place a little box with the target words on cards beside our pen holder.  Easy to shuffle cards or pull out ones that are below/above a certain student’s level.  You get a lot more repetition with cards, compared to “fixed words”.

Take a card, respond, get a pen – easy peasy!

I can use it with the highlighters/colored markers too!

Ha ha ha!
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: If you’ve got all that worked out, why did you call me in? I usually only show up when there’s a problem.

Ping: (Sighs in regret)* There is a problem.

Actually, there are two problems.

Pong: Start with the easier problem.

Ping: It’s a learning center, so not all the students are doing the same thing. If a student began the lesson working on the computer, and then went on to something else, he/she may ask for a pen in the middle of the lesson, not at the beginning…

At the moment they just go over to the table and take one without my involvement.

You must look at it all…
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: Hmmm… What’s the other problem?

Ping: What about the students who ALWAYS bring their pens, pencils, erasers, dictionaries, markers, and anything else they might possibly need for the lesson?

They need to practice these items too…

Pong: Why don’t you ask your readers for advice? Maybe they can offer suggestions.

Do you have any suggestions for me to consider?

____________________________________________

  • Can you guess which poem I have been teaching recently, yet again?

 

 

A Book for Our Times – “The Bone Fire” by Gyorgy Dragoman

I had already read more than half of THE BONE FIRE when the war in Ukraine began.

It was certainly a timely book to read.

The story doesn’t take place during a war. It’s a book about the generation/two generations after a war. About generations who not only have grown up dealing with the war scars of their parents/grandparents but have spent their lives behind the iron curtain.

The story takes place in an unnamed Eastern European country that has very recently been freed from life behind “the iron curtain”.  Those who know claim that it’s Romania.

The book is a combination of a coming of age story of 13-year-old Emma, recently orphaned, living with her mystical grandmother. While dealing with typical teenage angst (first menstruation, clothes, first crush, etc…) she must also deal with the harshness of an educational system scarred by the unforgiving brutality of a communist regime and the ghosts of war haunting her grandmother.

Yet her grandmother has special gifts and wisdom to pass down to Emma, gifts that become her own.

Learning to spread your wings… Naomi’s Photos

Beyond everything, the writing is unique and absolutely captivating.  Except for one part in the middle when I felt the author got too bogged down in details of teenage angst for too long, I was very taken by how the story is told and the manner in which the plot progresses. I can’t analyze the storytelling technique the way the New York Times Reviewer does (a review I read after reading the book!) but I don’t feel I need to. What matters is how it made me feel.

Fortunately, my son purchased the book following the New York Times review and suggested I read it as well.

I’m so glad I did.

I only wish that war in an area that had experienced life behind the iron curtain wasn’t taking place as I was reading the book…

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