This book takes place over three days, October 31, November 1, and November 2.
But, obviously not in 2020.
The year is 1918, just before the end of the first World War. The setting is Ireland, mainly Dublin.
A year in which a pandemic is raging, ravaging the population.
The Spanish Flu.
Certainly a “timely book”!
Frankly, I knew absolutely nothing about the book when I began reading it. During the first week of August, I noticed that our Libby library service had some new books, including this one. I added myself to the waiting list without bothering to see what this book was about or read reviews because of the author. I’ve enjoyed reading several of Donoghue’s previous books.
The audio version was well worth waiting for (3 months!). The excellent reader is clearly Irish herself – not only does she read the book with the relevant accents, she sings the “ditties” that are heard and even moans along with the women in the Maternity/Fever “ward”. You can feel the stress levels rising and ebbing along with the reader’s voice.
In the book, we see the world through the eyes of Nurse Julia Powers, who has already recovered from the flu and works in a TINY makeshift hospital “ward” set up so as to distance the women who have caught the dreaded flu from the rest of the expectant mothers.
You may pause here and ask (what I asked myself when I realized the time and the setting of the plot) “why would I want to read about a pandemic when I’m already living in the time of one”?
The book is about SO MUCH MORE than illustrating the reality of that pandemic and making one feel grateful for all that we do have going for us in this wretched 2020!
It’s a book about not doing things the way they have always been done simply because they have always been done that way. It’s about the need to fight for a society that doesn’t just look after a small percent of its members. It’s about strong women, lost children, rules that don’t make sense, and more.
While this book is a work of fiction, “historical fiction”, one of the main characters, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, was a real person. The endnotes about her are very interesting.
A word of warning, particularly if you aren’t familiar with books by Donoghue – the book starts slowly, with many medical and procedural details given. The pace doesn’t stay slow.
I felt that the characters were so real (the audio version helps with that, I think!) that I now find that I miss the characters!
Emma Donoghue wrote this book BEFORE she knew anything about the current pandemic, even though it was published after the pandemic had begun.
Full disclosure one – As a teacher of Deaf and hard of hearing students, I am back at school part-time (the rest of the school system is not back yet). Since many subjects are being crammed into half the hours, my high-school students are not getting anywhere near the required number of English lessons a week at school. So, the Vocabulary 400 Project has been relegated to distance learning.
Full disclosure two – I haven’t figured out all of the 400 ways to run out of milk yet, but I’m working on it.
“Figure out“? “Run out of“?
Both of these chunks are included in our Vocabulary 400 Project – an attempt to provide online exposure and an active way to engage with 400 advanced vocabulary items taken from a list supplied by the Ministry of Education.
So, why discuss milk?!
For me, the chunks “run out of” always brings to mind “milk” first, even though I have often run out of both “time” and “patience” in the classroom over the years.
The activities I have been creating for the Vocabulary 400 Project attempt to help the students forge such automatic connections between the target words (or chunks) and vocabulary items that go with them, via tasks only using reading/writing.
I say “attempt”, as in “hope”, because my students’ lack of exposure to oral input (little to no incidental learning from other sources) make such a goal even harder to achieve than it already is.
The word “achieve” is on our list too.
Here are links to online worksheets from the project.
The first two worksheets are brand new.
The others have been updated – I learned “the hard way” that providing links to Quizlet Sets on the worksheets is a very BAD idea. It seems that only people who sign into accounts on Quizlet can see the complete list of vocabulary items.
I can’t share the link to the Padlet board as it has the students’ names on it. The board is arranged in columns. The students are asked to write a sentence of their own in each column, according to the target word at the top of the column.
How to “run out of milk”:
Have some milk cartons leaking all over your doormat when the delivery person places the bags from the supermarket there.
Feed all the neighborhood cats.
Make insane amounts of pudding.
Prepare jars and jars of overnight oats with milk.
Forget to buy milk.
Spill milk all over the counter every time you use it.
Bring milk to work for everyone’s coffee.
Oh, there are so many more ways to run out of milk – feel free to add them in the comment section!
Both of the following books were written by Italian authors and both are short books, printed in a small format – 162 pages / 203 pages.
Naturally, I assumed I would be reading each one quite quickly, especially as we’ve been on lockdown.
I was mistaken.
“Invisible Cities” by Calvino is a book that I had to read very slowly. In fact, I couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. The book isn’t really a “book” in the usual sense, there’s no real story line – but rather a “procession” of very rich descriptions of more than 50 “invisible cities”. All these cities are considered to be the many faces of Venice.
After reading a description I had to stop and think – what did I just read? What was Calvino trying to say here?
Sometimes I was moved, and felt that a description was powerful, or lyrical. So many people live /work in a place and don’t really look at it – so much is being missed!
Sometimes I didn’t get the point of the description at all.
Sometimes I got annoyed that some descriptions were a bit repetitve.
I know it’s a strange thing to say, but I truly found the book to be too long. I wished it had been a series of blog posts which would send me a description of one “invisible city” a week to ponder. More than 50 such descriptions in short succession had me losing the ability to focus properly on them all.
It is interesting to note that in Hebrew this book is called “Shoelaces”. I have no idea what the original title in Italian means but “ties” is a more of a “give- away” of a clever metaphor that the shoelaces represent in the book.
This is a book you don’t want to know too much about in advance as it has some surprising parts. It’s a story about a family in a crises, over years, and is told in different ways in the books several parts. I had the book pegged one way and then it became a little different.
One one hand, it held my interest and I read it (yes, much quicker than the previous one) all the way through gladly. On the other hand, I didn’t find the characters completely “convincing” and some of the story line didn’t make sense, or rather “ring true”.
Fortunately, Couros’ post is called “Comfort in the Discomfort of Growth”. If I have “growing pains” that must mean I’m growing (aka LEARNING ) and that’s a positive thing to remind myself of.
Getting through September could have been even harder if I had been grappling with unfamiliar programs, right?
But first, let’s backtrack for a minute.
Yes, I AM a “masked teacher”!
As a Special Ed teacher, I continued teaching at school for a longer period of time, while others had been moved to remote learning. And I certainly keep my mask on in class. It’s a clear, see-through one so my Deaf and hard of hearing students can see my lips. At present we are also in remote teaching mode but I expect to resume teaching at school before the rest of the school system does.
So, over the summer I did my best to create /post material in a manner that would let students continue working whether they were in class or at home, on their phones (or in some cases, the computer).
But then technology, both hardware & software, which I have been using intensively, “unmasked” some hidden curve balls and started throwing them at me.
Where should I begin?
From the middle, of course! That will give you a “taste” of what I mean!
I’m in our learning center with eight students. One of the two classroom computers is in use. Two students are using their cell phones to continue activities they began online. The others are using their books and notebooks.
Within minutes a 12th-grade student working on his phone is annoyed. He had previously begun an exercise I had posted on Edmodo and wanted to continue working on the same task. Edmodo saves your answers automatically so it has always been easy to continue from where you left off.
At least, on the website it is easy.
The student is using the app. He has no problem accessing a new task but cannot find his previous answers and neither can I. I send him to the vacant computer – all his previous answers are right there, waiting for him to continue.
Okay, I think. Now I can work quietly with the other students, as planned.
However, to my genuine surprise, the other student who is working on the computer calls me over repeatedly. She is working on a task on a LiveWorksheet, which the students find very convenient to use. She has an additional window open – the student clicked on the link I had added at the top of the exercise, leading to a Quizlet vocabulary set, with vocabulary items needed for the task. Since she’s a strong student who actually followed instructions and had the “support material open, I did not expect any “distress calls”.
What could be the problem?
After trying to tell her how much I believed in her ability to do the task well on her own without coming over, then coming over and wasting time trying to explain sentences to her that she actually had understood, I finally discovered the source of the problem. A huge advertisement was blocking half of the word list on the set! No wonder she was frustrated – partial information is confusing! Surprisingly, we could not scroll down past the advertisement. That had never happened before!
I asked the student to use the app on her phone while working on the computer.
Meanwhile, some of the students who were “working with their coursebooks” were happily playing with their phones…
The fact that the bell rang and we all went home didn’t mean that there weren’t additional curveballs in store for me. Ones that came before I had time to deal with the ones that had just been pitched my way.
The next day we moved to remote learning. A student, whom I’ll call N. , sends me a message complaining that I didn’t give him the Quizlet set needed for the tasks. I go and check the Quizlet class and he’s certainly a member of the class. I send him a direct link to the set via WhatsApp (which he can access without any missing words, thankfully). He claims he doesn’t have this set in his app (he does have a different set I assigned though). He starts sending me pics of other sets he finds, of classes he isn’t a member of!
At some point, it dawns on me that he is going into “other recommended sets by the same teacher” which appears below the set he sees, instead of swiping right to see the additional sets in his class.
I quickly understood that the student with a very old phone and no computer (who doesn’t install apps) needs the original WORD version of worksheets, not the PDF version which is a much better choice for almost everyone else. But I ran into trouble with the rest of the class regarding a particular section on one out of a whole series of worksheets I had created.
This task required the completion of a few words inside a short text. How do you do that on a document saved as a PDF file?
When a student wrote to me asking how to fill in the missing words I admit, I was surprised. I hadn’t noticed this potential distance learning problem. My immediate solution was “Write the missing words on a piece of paper, take a picture and send it to me”. Fortunately, later in the same remote lesson, another student completed the task on her cell phone, with the missing words placed in the task. She kindly made a brief video showing how she did that, along with permission to share it – having students solve problems like that is wonderful!
I couldn’t teach in these crazy times without the wonderful Edtech I currently use.
Even “wonderful” can still be hard. I’m learning too.
Even when I “get the Edtech right” – teaching nowadays is HARD. And it’s O.K to say that out loud.
Everything seems so vivid in my mind (a week after completing the book!), the characters, the sights, sounds, and smells, that I feel as if I had seen a movie!
True, neither books nor movies convey smells, but it seems that the end of the 19th century (actually, 1893, I believe) in the Wild West, particularly the Arizona Territory, wasn’t a place that smelled washed and clean. Lack of water and drought certainly served as a powerful excuse, though that was certainly not the only source of smells in this book.
But clarifying THAT statement would be a big spoiler.
I am well aware that I don’t tend to write too much detail about the plot of a book in my posts and that some of you go off to read summaries of the book elsewhere. I strongly urge you not to read to much about it in advance. The book starts slowly, but as the plot unfolds in surprising twists and turns the pace becomes quicker and quicker until the final, unexpected “showdown”.
You don’t want to ruin the experience.
A person needs to know that it is a Western, but not a traditional Western. There are strong, interesting female characters featuring prominently in the book, along with male characters you would expect to find in a Western and those you wouldn’t.
The book relates to actual, historically documented events that occurred, and feels well researched, down to the details, including the dialect and phrases of the period. However, at the same time, not everything in the book is grounded in reality…
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Just what you need for a second lockdown…
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students