Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Global Perspective at Christmas

My brother, Evan has always been the global thinker in our family. He has his finger on the pulse of those less fortunate both in his neighborhood and abroad. He is a children's pastor who leads the kids under his influence to take action globally, especially in Uganda. Through a variety of activities, his children have become personally connected to the plight of the poor in Uganda. More than that, they are “learning to do good” while developing a global perspective. What a gift!

It was no surprise that Evan introduced the idea of “micro-financing to end poverty” to my brother Marc several months ago. I only have to hear “micro-” and my eyes begin to glaze over and by the time I hear “financing” I am totally checked out, but I will try to explain it in “Marsha-ese”. Micro-financing is LENDING funds to the rural poor in developing countries, usually in the form a small loans (smaller than banks are interested in loaning). This is often the only way they would be able to establish or maintain a business that has the ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Loans are repaid and can then be re-loaned to other individuals. The concept is quite amazing, and has real potential to put a major dent in extreme poverty.

Marc began to research this concept and came across an organization that actually connects people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty. Kiva is “the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe”. If you want more information check out the about page on Kiva's website (the video is great). About Kiva.

This Christmas, the Abla side of our family decided that we would take the amount of money normally spent on gifts for each other and instead invest at Kiva. So, last night all 12 of us, kids included, squeezed into our family room, sat around the Christmas tree began to invest in real people around the world.

Creating our family account was an ordeal in itself. What would we call our group? You can only imagine the suggestions with the names Cuttill Roat Abla Price (no, we did not select CRAP as our Kiva name, but you know it was discussed. Check us out anyway at Cuttill Roat Abla Price ). With the family photo snapped and uploaded, we only had one more step to complete our profile. We had to finish the statement, “I loan because...”. I don't think any of us had actually thought much about why, but our answer came when Evan recited Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good: Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” This scripture became our hymn, as well as our Kiva group slogan. We invite all to join this group at Isaiah 1:17

Once our family account was initiated, we pressed the much anticipated “lend” button on the site. Waiting anxiously for the multitude of needy folks to pop up, we became instantly disappointed when we found NO loans were available to be funded! WHAT? We waited and waited—still—none. Then, all of a sudden, one profile came available. In unison we yelled at the computer operator “CHOSE THAT ONE! CHOSE THAT ONE!” and that's how Jhudy, a small grocery owner from Peru, became our first investment. As we read about Jhudy's life and circumstances, excitement began to grow in the room. Jhudy was a real person with a real desire to make her life better and overcome poverty through entrepreneurship.

We followed the same process to fund the next seven loans and each time the kids would read about these people and become a bit more engaged in the process of investing. Once all of our initial monies were spent, several more loans became available. It was at this point that my sister-in-law announced, “Hey, Marsha. Here is a widow with a daughter from Tajikistan who is seeking a loan to invest in seeds and mineral fertilizer to improve the quality of her produce.” Well, she had me at “widow” and Begidjon Khairova became the first loan we were able to choose ourselves and the final loan of the evening. Funny thing was, everyone still had their laptops or iPhones out researching other loans on the site. Zack had created a “group” on Facebook and everyone had created personal accounts on Kiva.

You know, I don't remember our family EVER being so engaged during any Christmas gift exchange in the past. Somehow opening presents wasn't even missed and in the end we were able to say, “Merry Christmas Begidjon.” “Merry Christmas Norma.” “Merrry Christmas Riza.” “Merry Christmas Jhudy.” “Merry Christmas Cotzojay.” “Merry Christmas Mariela.” “Merry Christmas Sherali.” “Merry Christmas Olivia.” “Merry Christmas Zulma.” And a very Merry Christmas to our family who has always invested in each other, so it only seems natural to invest in others.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Best Young Adult Books of the Decade

As you all know, I am a strong believer that if you are to become an accomplished writer, you MUST read good literature. I recently returned from a BER seminar entitled “The Best Young Adult Books of the Decade and How to Use Them in Your Program (Grades 6-12)”. After posting the fact I was attending this seminar, many friends and educators asked if I would post the information on my website, so here it is. Dr. Scates gave book talks on over 75 books during the day, so the list here does not do justice to the great literature out there for young adults.

First, I will post the presenter, Denni Kay Scates’s list of:

Top Ten Young Adult Books for Grades 6-8.

  1. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

  2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Adventure)

  3. Cirque Du Freak (series) by Darren Shan (Fantasy; Horror)

  4. To Dance by Sienna Cherson Siegel (Science Fiction; Graphic Novel)

  5. Death by Eggplant by Susan O’Keefe (Humor)

  6. Click Here and Find Out How I Survived 7th Grade by Denise Ve

    ga (Humor)

  7. Waiting for Normal by Leslie Conner (Realistic Fiction)

  8. Guys Write for Guys Read by Jon Scieszka (Short Stories)

  9. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Realistic Fiction)

  10. A Baseball Card Adventure Series (ie. Babe and Me) by Dan Gutman (Fantasy; Series)

After listening to the book talks, I made a list of the:

Top Ten Young Adult Books I Want to Read”:

  1. Point Blank: an Alex Rider Adventure by Anthony Horowitz (Adventure)

  2. From Baghdad With Love: a Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava by Jay Kopelman (Memoir)

  3. How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot (“Chick” Lit)

  4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (Fantasy; Horror)

  5. Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac (Historical Fiction)

  6. Fire From the Rock by Sharon Draper (Historical Fiction)

  7. 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley (Humor)

  8. Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters by Gail Giles (Mystery)

  9. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Realistic Fiction)

  10. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (Mystery)

Here is my two cents; books that I have found to impact my students and my teaching:

Marsha’s Top Ten List of Young Adult Books

  1. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Michaelsen (Adventure)

  2. Running Out of Time by Margaret Petterson Haddix (Historical Fiction/Fantasy)

  3. Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher (Realistic Fiction)

  4. Jack on the Tracks by Jack Gantos (Humor)

  5. Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems by Kristine O’Connell George

  6. Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar: (Humor)This book is below the middle school level reading-wise; however, is rich in humor and lends itself to impromptu plays

  7. Guts by Gary Paulsen (Biography)

  8. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz (Adventure)

  9. Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg (Realistic Fiction)

  10. Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (Non Fiction): One of the best books to encourage young writers.

If you are interested I have a catalog of ALL of the books BER recommends for students 6-12. It is lengthy, but it gives a brief description of the books.

In addition I will also include Dr. Scates’s Top Ten for Grades 9-12. SOME, but not all, of these books MAY contain some mature situations, so use your d

iscretion. They are sure to ignite great discussion with your teenager (we could all use that). Most of the books on the list are perfectly fine and the reading level is greater than some of the 6-8 books:

Top Ten Young Adult Books for Grades 9-12

  1. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (Realistic Fiction): Bobby’s carefree teenage life changes forever when he becomes a father and must care for his baby daughter.

  2. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen (Memoir)

  3. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (Fantasy)

  4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (Graphic Novel)

  5. The Book Theif by Markus Zusak (Historical Fiction)

  6. 24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley (Humor)

  7. Click by Nick Hornby and others (Mystery)

  8. Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson (Non-fiction: Picture Book): This book is about a man who was killed in a brutal, racially motivated lynching in 1955. It is told in sonnet form and has very sophisticated language-it should spark lots of conversation.

  9. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (Realistic Fiction)

  10. Twice Told: Original Stories Inspired by Original Art by Scott Hunt

Now it is your turn, as readers of this blog, what are the young adult books you have found to ignite the love of reading and/or left an impact on you as an adult? Use the “comments” to leave your suggestions. Be sure to list the book title, author, and why you think it should be added to the list.