Review: Duke with Benefits

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Duke with Benefits
Author: Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: June 2017
Length: 320 pages
Series?: Studies in Scandal #2
Genre: Historical Romance

LADY + DUKE = TRUE LOVE?

Lady Daphne Forsyth is a brilliant mathematician with a burning passion for puzzles. When she learns that the library belonging to her benefactress houses the legendary Cameron Cipher―an encrypted message that, once solved, holds the key to great riches―Daphne is on the case. Unfortunately, her race to unlock the cipher’s code is continually thwarted by a deliciously handsome distraction she hadn’t counted on. . .and cannot resist.

Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, is curious as to why Daphne is spending so much time snooping around his aunt’s bookshelves. He’s even more intrigued by her bold yet calculating manner: She is unapologetic about her secret quest. . .and the fiery attraction that develops between them both. But how can they concentrate on solving a perplexing enigma once the prospect of true love enters the equation?

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

my review

The Skinny

Lady Daphne Forsyth is a mathematical genius of her time. She is incredibly intelligent but suffers severely in social situations. She and three other young women were named heirs of Lady Celeste, a woman known in her own right for own scholarly accomplishments. She wanted to leave her extensive library and Beauchamp House to female scholars who would put them to good use. Each lady is intelligent and independent and has their own subject of study. Combined, they are an incredible powerhouse of knowledge. Lady Celest left instructions for the women to reside at Beauchamp House for a year. She also left a letter for each woman.

Daphne’s letter contained a riddle she must work out. Puzzles and codes are one of the things Daphne is the best at. Lady Celest left Daphne to find the notorious Cameron Cipher, which Daphne believes is housed somewhere in the Beauchamp House library. Not only does she need to find the cipher, Daphne needs to solve it. The Cameron Cipher leads to gold the Cameron clan hid after the uprising.

Lady Celeste also encouraged Daphne to use the assistance of her nephew, Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, who is enamored of Daphne upon meeting her. Since Daphne has secrets of her own, she keeps her letter and challenge to herself. When Nigel Sommersby, her childhood tutor’s son, pops up nearby and makes mention of the Cameron Cipher, she must reveal the secret in Lady Celeste’s letter. Everyone at Beauchamp House is willing to help her, but Daphne wants to go it alone…until Sommersby is found dead in the library and someone takes a shot at Daphne there in the dark. Under the suspicion of murder, the Beauchamp House residents are all on the hunt for the murderer and the Cipher.

 

The Players

Lady Daphne Forsyth

Miss Sophia Hastings – one of the heiresses

Miss Gemma Hastings – one of the heiresses

Miss Ivy Wareham – one of the heiresses; affianced to Lord Kerr

Lady Serena – the chaperone for the ladies; she is Dalton’s sister

Dalton Beauchamp – the Duke of Maitland and Lady Celeste’s nephew

Lord Kerr –  the Marquess of Kerr and Ivy’s fiance

The Quote

 “As it was the first time I’d seen a dead body, sir,” she said with her usual forthrightness, “it was indeed most disturbing. I do not recommend it.”

The Highs and Lows

  • Beauchamp House. Lady Celest, a strong-willed female scholar, is determined to have her heirs follow her wishes. She has selected four young female scholars and left a letter for each of them. For Lady Daphne, hers included the challenge to find and solve the Cameron Cipher. All of the ladies are residing at Beauchamp House, which is rumored to house the cipher. The Cameron Cipher is not only known to Daphne. While she is on the hunt for it, so are others. That is when things begin to go drastically wrong and people from her past start popping up.
  • Daphne’s Background. Daphne is a highly intelligent woman, specifically with numbers and codes. Growing up her father used her abilities for his own gain to cheat at cards in the clubs and at other social events attended by the ton. Her father could not survive without her, so as a young teen, she uses that to her advantage to blackmail him for a tutor. She wanted to learn, she wanted to use her talents to their fullest extent. Given the time period, this was highly unusual for a female. In order to preserve his lifestyle and livelihood by exploiting his daughter, her lowlife father agrees to hire a tutor who can truly teach her and help her further her studies. The tutor brought his son with him.
  • Daphne’s Struggle. Always Daphne has been extremely smart but highly ineffective and awkward in social settings. The niceties and conventions of society are beyond comprehension to Daphne. She doesn’t know why you’d waste time talking about the weather just to be polite. She is never comfortable in social settings and will try to hedge or avoid them if possible. She is very forthright and forthcoming in conversation. Based on what Daphne shares with the other ladies and with Dalton, it is fairly obvious she suffers greatly from anxiety and seems like a classic case of the most high-functioning end of the Asperger’s spectrum. That’s why she propositions Dalton.
  • Dalton. He is an honorable man who has a strong ethical compass. He believes in what is right. Witnessing his father’s treatment of women throughout his life, Dalton chooses to live his life differently. He suddenly becomes protective of Daphne and wants to see her through the events unfolding. He understood and accepted Daphne just as she was, gaining Daphne’s trust. He respected Daphne as a woman, as an intelligent being, and with the anxiety and ineptitude she harbored for social settings.
  • Daphne’s Secret. When Sommersby’s body is found, leading to an investigation, Daphne reveals the secrets contained in her letter from Lady Celeste, but there are more secrets that she has been keeping for years. Ever since Sommersby and his father resided in her home. While the other ladies of the household don’t wish to push Daphne to fully reveal the extent of her shame. She does later reveal it to Dalton. Before the rest of the story comes out, it is just more kindling for the fire of Daphne being investigated for the murder. When Daphne’s wretched father makes a sudden appearance, demanding she return home with him, Dalton steps in and announces their engagement. Even though she is shocked by Dalton’s claim, it has the power to protect her. Never would her father make these ridiculous demands if she were to marry a duke.

The ladies of Beachump House have growing relationships and are darling. They are true friends and supporters, just as Lord Kerr and Dalton are. Together they all help Daphne realize her full potential as an individual and help her grow and learn more about herself. They care for her, trust her, and keep her safe. Daphne has a rich and unique history and as a result, she is a very flawed character. Her anxiety (and Asperger’s IMO) helps explain the consequence of her father’s treatment of her and her fear of people in general. I was fascinated with the treasure hunt for the Cameron Cipher (and the actual treasure, of course), but the death of Sommersby is what ratcheted the plot to a different level with more intensity.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Manda Collins spent her teen years wishing she’d been born a couple of centuries earlier, preferably in the English countryside. Time travel being what it is, she resigned herself to life with electricity and indoor plumbing, and read lots of books. An affinity for books led to a graduate degree in English, followed by another in Librarianship. By day, she works as an academic librarian at a small liberal arts college, where she teaches college students how to navigate the tangled world of academic research. A native of coastal Alabama, Manda lives in the house her mother grew up in with two cats, sometimes a dog, sometimes her sister, and always lots of books.

Find the author: Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Chasing Fireflies

ABOUT THE BOOK

30136490Title: Chasing Fireflies
Author: Taylor Dean
Publisher: Taylor Dean Books
Release Date: July 2016
Length: 311 pages
Series?: Power of the Matchmaker #7
Genre: Contemporary Romance

My sisters think I’m crazy.

But, I’ve never forgotten the mysterious woman from my childhood who told me Paul is the name of my one true love.
She told me to search far and wide for him.
I haven’t stopped looking ever since.

When I stumble across an article about a successful American entrepreneur named Paul who lives and works in China, I’m intrigued. When the opportunity to teach English in China presents itself on the same day, I know it’s not a coincidence.

It’s destiny.

My sisters say I’m chasing a dream.

Just like the fireflies we tried to catch on the warm summer evenings of our youth, the dream seems beyond my grasp. Will my quest for the elusive Paul always be just short of fulfillment?

My sisters tell me it’s a fool’s errand.

Until I remind them of the day we saw the Red Bird.
The memory silences them.
The Red Bird Incident remains inarguable—and proves my search for Paul is not a silly fantasy.

I will find Paul . . . I will.

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

 

my review

The Skinny

Savannah met Miss Pearl, the matchmaker, when she was 11. Miss Pearl told her three important things. The first two have come true, and now Savannah must fulfill the last thing: find Paul. Not just any one specific Paul, but the Paul that his her soulmate. How in the world does she do this? She ignores anyone (romantically) without the name Paul. After flipping through her university’s alumni magazine, she discovers Paul, a UT alumni businessman in China. So she signs up for a program teaching English in China in the same city as Paul.

The Players

Savannah – an extreme introvert on a mission

Dakota – Savannah’s read-headed roommate who is incredible intuitive

Hunter – a young, blond, goofy kid more interested in the food and the fun

Lori and husband – the married couple leading the English teaching expedition

Julian – an American chef at Burger, Burger; former teacher in the same program at

Paul – UT graduate and businessman in China

The Highs and Lows

  • Pearl and the Prophecies. The way Pearl showed up in this installment in the series was different than all the others. Savannah meets Pearl when she is 11 years old. Pearl is the next-door neighbor of one of Savannah’s friends, and when the two meet Pearl tells her three important events about her future. When these prophecies begin to be fulfilled, like the tragic news and The Red Bird incident, Savannah holds steadfast to Pearl’s last item: she will search far and wide for Paul.
  • Savannah. She is an introvert to the max, like me, so it was very easy to understand her character and can relate very much. It is something that is hard to explain to other people. Savannah keeps to herself and goes through life wearing an invisible cloak that lets her blend into the background and be forgotten or overlooked in social situations.

The truth of the matter is I like being invisible.

Social situations sometimes exhaust me. Not that I don’t enjoy them. I do. Absolutely. But afterwards I need space, time to regroup and recover from the effort.For some reason, social situations take a lot out of me and I can only handle them in small doses. But it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them or need them.

I don’t enjoy situations where I feel at a loss for words. Every once in a while, I find myself searching for words and not finding them. That’s when things get awkward.

I don’t enjoy being the center of attention. I like to observe and listen, it’s the niche where I feel most comfortable.

I hate the disconnect between my brain and my tongue. It’s an innate part of me that I can’t seem to fight, no matter how hard I try. The words stick in my throat.

  • Julian. He is an incredible individual, and I was impressed with his business skills to co-own Burger, Burger in China with Mr. Tang. He caters more to the American tourists, which the book made clear is where the group eats daily, preferring American fare over Chinese. The other thing that got me was his instant attachment to Savannah, and his brazen way of letting her know and calling attention to that fact as much as possible. He is also very obvious in his dislike for the group leader, Lori and her husband, and another girl in the group who hangs on his every word and is very fake. Overall, he’s a fun guy and I liked that in his character. Savannah did, too. Only problem is his name isn’t Paul. But all the things you’d want in a partner are there in Julian. Who cares if his name isn’t Paul?
  • Pina Coladas. Julian plays on this song quite a bit throughout the novel, and it is kind of like their “thing” he and Savannah share. They make light of others in the group only having half a brain. Comments about yoga and the taboo making love at midnight comes up.
  • Hiding Savannah’s Past. Since the first two chapters, “The Red Bird Incident” is referred to several times, but never explained in any kind of way except that it was the second item Miss Pearl foretold Savannah about. It drove me crazy! Savannah and all of her sisters gabbed on and on about these things, and it was like being left on the outside looking in – and not in a good way. It really made me want to stop reading entirely. I didn’t ever foresee being told what the hell was going on. There would be chapters that would flash back and the entire chapter would be about Savannah’s past. It would build up and build up and then just dropped. The book even started in this way. I was left wondering who the hell Paul was and why her sisters didn’t trash him or build him up as an individual. The reason was he didn’t exist – he, as a specific person. Paul is just any man named Paul, and Savannah set her sights on the UT alum in China.
  • Fundamental Drawbacks. As I read, I had some things I couldn’t get past some things at the end. Some of Savannah’s commentary about her relationship or responses to Julian.  It was weird. I did feel that Savannah and Julian had some sort of connection, but there were some things that didn’t mesh for me as a reader. For these reasons, I was disappointed in this installment in the series. Because of these things I felt it did not live up to the basic principles of romance and true – TRULY – true love. It was subpar and I feel like the last few chapters reinforced all the wrong things I think young girls and women today fall victim to in relationships.

 

The Take-Away

I didn’t really like this one. Developmentally a lot of things could have been different. I also don’t really see the swoony romance here. I see a connection that is then up in the air as both Savannah and Julian have different thoughts and make up their minds about things.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

6425797Taylor Dean lives in Texas and is the mother of four grown children. Upon finding herself with an empty nest, she began to write the stories that were always wandering around in her head, quickly finding she had a passion for writing, specifically romance. Whether it’s paranormal, contemporary, or suspense-you’ll find all sub-genres of CLEAN Romance in her line-up.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Frankie Dupont and the Lemon Festival Fiasco

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Title: Frankie Dupont and the Lemon Festival Fiasco
Author: Julie Anne Grasso
Release Date: March 2015
Length: 135 pages
Series?: Frankie Dupont Mysteries #2 
Genre: MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon 

Hot off cracking his first official case, Frankie Dupont is on the scene when his new teacher takes ill. The pint-sized detective suspects a classic case of sour grapes, but the evidence leads him to the one place he wouldn’t mind avoiding for the rest of his natural life.

Enderby Manor has a few more secrets up her sleeve, and as Frankie begins to unravel them, he uncovers a plot stinkier than a sardine sandwich.

In Book 2 of the Frankie Dupont Mysteries, Frankie will make some new friends, upset some old ones, and of course, there will be lemon meringue pie.

***** Review *****

First, if you are an educator or parent, there is a free book companion compiled by Carolyn at Wise Owl Factory. There is also on available for the first book as well that Carolyn created. Isn’t that nice? You can read my review of the first book in the series here.

Frankie is back at it again! This time with his cousin Kat, and classmate Amy, along with a little help from his friend Lachy from the first book.

Frankie’s class has been combined with another, and when Miss Chestnut presents head teacher Mr. Mulberry with a poisoned lemon pie, Frankie is on it! Amy provides some inside information about Miss Chestnut directly from the school office. It seems Miss Chestnut certainly had motive, but on the day that the class goes to Enderby Manor to pick lemons for the lemon festival, Frankie botches his interrogation.

He also runs into some of the Manor characters who appeared in book 1, all the while avoiding Meredith, now running Evelyn’s cupcake shop, and Madame Mecurre. Add to it that Frankie is also keeping Amy at arm’s length and out of the investigation, with Kat playing the middle man. It makes for an interesting and complex set-up in addition to the investigation itself.

Frankie and Kat manage to get quite a few clues from around Enderby Manor, with Amy helping cover them. Frankie also meets Meredith and thanks her for her generosity from book 1, which he did not want to do. However, Evan the chef and Madame Mecurre are both acting strangely. After the day of picking lemons prior, Madame Mecurre goes ape on Miss Chestnut and the students about the lemon orchard.

The next day, something disastrous has happened to the lemon orchard. Frankie is running out of time to discover who is at the bottom of this mess, and it appears that the motive is to get their hands on Enderby Manor in order to sell it. Frankie runs down his list of suspects and reveals all at the Lemon Festival which has indeed turned into a fiasco.

***** About the Author *****

With a background in paediatric nursing, Julie Anne Grasso spent many years literally wrapping children in cotton wool. Every day she witnessed great courage and resilience from the tiny people she cared for, which inspired her to write stories about a little girl elf just like them.

She lives in Melbourne Australia with her husband Danny and their little elf Giselle.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

Review: A Scaly Tale

Title: A Scaly Tale
Author: Kara Wilkins
Publisher: Ripley Publishing
Release Date: May 2010
Length: 125 pages
Series?: Ripley Bureau of Investigation #1
Genre: MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon 

The Florida swamplands are home to hungry gators, wild electrical storms, and a most unusual creature. Sightings of a strange lizard-like animal reach Ripley High and the RBI are sent to investigate. During their search, the RBI agents find themselves in the middle of a high-speed airboat chase, a swarm of rats, a mysterious treasure hunt, and DUL agents in disguise. But then that’s nothing unusual when you’re a member of the RBI!

***** Review *****

This is the first in the Ripley Bureau of Investigation series, also known as RBI: Fact or Fiction?. The RBI team is made up of a group of teenagers with a wide range of abilities and talents that are quite extraordinary. They are members of the elite and top secret RBI team at their school, Ripley High School, which is located in the home of Robert Ripley (creator of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!) on an island off of the East Coast.

The RBI team operates in similar fashion to that of the pals of Scooby Doo, except there’s no dog and only a few investigators are sent on each mission. The selection process for each mission is grounded in the student’s talents and abilities. Those who have the best to offer for each mission are the ones who are sent. Their objective for each mission is to investigate, gather information and determine if it is fact or fiction.

In this first installment, the investigators are sent to the swamplands of Florida to uncover the mystery surrounding the strange reports of a lizard-like man.  Jack, Zia and Kobe are all assigned to comb the Everglades for another sighting of the larger-than-life lizard.

Jack is a 14 year-old from Australia. He grew up on an animal park and has an uncanny bond with animals. He can “talk” with any creature.

Zia is a 13 year-old girl who was the only survivor of a tropical storm that destroyed her village. She was a baby then, and as a result of the storm she now has a white streak of hair among her dark locks. She doesn’t fully understand her abilities, but she can predict (and sometimes control) the weather, as well as having magnetic and electrical powers.

Kobe is a 15 year-old boy who is the product of two African tribes. He has excellent tracking abilities and is an expert on native cultures around the world. His most illustrious talent, though, is his telepathic abilities: he can tell the entire history of a person or object simply by touching it!

Before setting out, the gang is briefed on some high-tech and clever devices designed by their own teacher, Dr. Maxwell, who is the only faculty member who is privy to RBI. Along the way, they run into some devious and dangerous DUL agents who pursue them on airboats through the swampland. The RBI agents get bombarded by a swarm of rats, run into a treasure hunt and at last discover the lizard man.

The book includes a breakdown of all the characters in the book, along with their skills and special notes. There is a map of Ripley High School and other cool graphics relating to the investigation throughout the book. The author has set up the book in such a way that it could easily be transitioned into a TV show, with much of the technology-based devices and messages at the ready.

The dialogue and action are what make this book! I love the team of agents sent on this mission, and how they all work together to support one another. They are fully involved in solving the mission they have been sent on. This is a great example of teamwork and covers some history, culture and geography related to the region.

Review: Friends for Life

Title: Friends for Life
Author: Billi Tiner
Publisher: Createspace
Release Date: May 2012
Length: 162 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Children’s, MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon 

Bo and Rico are two puppies who meet at a pet store. The puppies are dognapped from the pet store by two goons. Realizing they are in danger, Bo and Rico must work together to escape the dognappers. After their escape, Bo and Rico find themselves scared and alone on the mean city streets. They are rescued by a streetwise stray named Tank. Tank takes the puppies under his wing and teaches them how to survive on the streets. Bo and Rico embark on several adventures including avoiding the local Animal Control officer, Jimmy; several run-ins with a pack of dogs led by a stray named Mongrel; and rescuing a beautiful lost Poodle named Pearl. Through it all, Bo and Rico form an incredible friendship that will last a lifetime. 

***** Review *****

This is a heartwarming story about friendship and loyalty, of course, from none other than man’s best friend! Bo is a purebred bulldog pup who has lived with his owners until they decide to sell him through the pet shop. After arriving, Bo is confused and Rico the Chihuahua becomes his friend. They bond and grow even closer after two goons kidnap them from the store!

Bo and Rico put their brains, brawn and paws together to escape from the dognappers, but they soon learn their fate on the street is perhaps worse that it was with their dognappers. The streets of the city are cold, hard and mean. They run into a fair share of dangerous situations, until they get rescued by a very street savvy stray. Tank has been around the block before and he knows Bo and Rico are good pups, so he takes them under his wing.

As Bo and Rico survive day by day on the streets, their friendship grows steadily. They are inseparable and always work to protect one another. They have a myriad of adventures, the scariest of which are avoiding the Animal Control officer Jimmy and some run-ins with Mongrel’s pack of strays. They also rescue a lost Poodle, Pearl, and help her find her way back home.

The book contains all the elements that are appealing and engaging to younger readers. Although it’s marketed as a children’s book, I’d really categorize it as a MG book because it is a chapter book of length, and the vocabulary is a little higher than what would be found in a children’s book.

***** About the Author *****

Dr. Billi Tiner is a veterinarian who lives with her husband and two children in Missouri. Dr. Tiner loves animals and has three dogs and three cats of her own.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

Review: Bash and Lucy Fetch Jealousy

This a a review blitz for the picture book, “Bash and Lucy Fetch Jealousy,” authored by Lisa Cohn and her son Michael Cohn, who created “Bash and Lucy” to help (then) 4 year-old Michael cope with the death of their family dog, Lucy.  They have become media darlings, including being featured in The Daily Mail in the U.K. and making an appearance on The Today Show.  Here is your chance to check out their latest book!

Bash-and-Lucy-Fetch-Jealousy-CoverTitle: Bash and Lucy Fetch Jealousy
Author: Lisa Cohn & Michael Cohn
Publisher: Canines and Kids Publishing
Release Date: December 2014
Length: 39 pages
Series?: Bash and Lucy series
Recommended Ages: 3 to 8

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

From an award-winning Mom-Son team featured on the Today Show, Bash and Lucy Fetch Jealousy is a contemporary boy-and-dog book. Bash’s dog, Lucy, helps coach his soccer team, and Lucy leads the team to the championships. But Bash is overcome with jealousy when Lucy enchants a team of Special Olympics kids who say they want her to coach their team. Can Bash overcome his jealousy and learn to share Lucy with kids who say they need her? This is Book Two in the Bash and Lucy series, following Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence, a Mom’s Choice Silver Award winner and finalist, USA Best Book Awards. Co-Author Michael Cohn, age 6, has appeared on the Today Show, on SiriusXM Radio, in Disney’s Babble, in The Oregonian and other media.

***** Review *****

Lucy is an extremely playful, light-hearted and kind character. Plus, she’s a dog! She doesn’t see the flaws in the children she coaches. Instead, she sees where she is most needed and can be of the most use.

She does her best to uplift a team of Special Olympics soccer players, and Bash (Lucy’s owner) gets green with envy. The evil eye of jealousy comes out in Bash.

Throughout the story filled with beautiful illustrations, Bash has to learn to share Lucy’s wonderfulness with others. Bash and Lucy also teach and help young readers understand what it is to be a service dog, as well as sharing our best qualities and assets with those who need them most.

***** About the Authors *****

MichealLisatoplaughWriter Lisa Cohn and her 6-year-old son, Michael, have appeared on the Today Show, SiriusXM Radio, AM Northwest and Disney’s Babble, in addition to the Oregonian and other media. Their first book, “Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence,” received a Mom’s Choice Silver Award and was a 2013 USA Best Book Award finalist. Book lover Michael reviews children’s books in taxis, gyms, lodges and parks and the Cohns post them on their YouTube channel!

Lisa and Michael’s aim is to share with children their love of dogs, books and writing! Learn about their school visits, dog blog and book reviews by Michael and friends.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Review + Giveaway: The Almond Tree


The Almond TreeTitle:
 The Almond Tree
Author: Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Publisher: Garnet Publishing
Release Date: December 2013
Length: 353 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: ebook
Source: I Am A Reader

Find the book: Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

For all tour stops, visit the tour schedule.

Synopis 

The unforgettable story of a young Palestinian boy whose mathematical gifts allow him to escape the difficulties of life as an Arab Israeli, The Almond Tree is a beautifully crafted debut novel written by a Jewish American woman from the perspective of a Palestinian Muslim male. It is about the power of love, the price of hatred, and the possibility of redemption.
Even as a young boy Ahmed Hamid struggles with knowing that he can do nothing to save his friends and family. Coming of age under Israeli martial law, his entire village operates in fear of losing their homes, jobs, and belongings. But more importantly, they fear losing each other.
On Ahmed’s twelfth birthday, that fear becomes reality.
With his father imprisoned, his family’s home and possessions confiscated, and his beloved brother Abbas succumbing to hatred in the face of conflict, Ahmed must find a way to care for his family and find a better future for himself. Gifted with a mind that can solve mathematical equations, he uses his intellect to take an inspiring journey that will lead him from his war-torn homeland to a life in America he could never have imagined for himself.
A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of half a century of conflict, The Almond Tree is a powerful novel that allows us to walk in one extraordinary Palestinian’s shoes and see the world through his eyes.

Review

I’m just going to say it: you need to read this book. It is an incredible journey of love, fear, and humanity.

I climbed our almond tree. Abbas and I had named her Shahida, “witness,” because we spent so many hours in her watching the Arabs and Jews that she felt like a playmate deserving of a name.

The book is divided into four parts, starting in 1955 and ending in 2009. Ichmad Hamid has grown up in his formative years in poverty in Israel, but through help from a few combined with his mathematical and scientific gifts, he is able to overcome Israel and go to America to persue his dream, to fulfill a promise to his father.

The novel opens with Ichmad setting readers up for the book – and the death of a loved one. Israel is a place of restriction and fear, and Ichmad’s family, as all other families in his village, are struggling to survive. They pay taxes, but get no city infrastructure or sanitation systems because they are not considered a city. The people have a tradition and friendliness about them that is strained when the soldiers come. They are regulated in everything they do: you must get permits to build a house, you must get permission to travel anywhere, there is a strict curfew imposed and if you are out after curfew, you are either arrested or killed. Houses are raided and bombed. Prisoners are taken. Family members are killed. They live every day, almost every moment, in fear.

I was caught between the devil and the fires of hell.

Ichmad’s parents try to compensate for the postponement on their children, and they try to normalize their life in Israel. His family is surviving, and celebrating another year for Ichmad. Unfortunately, Ichmad makes a terrible mistake that costs his family their father, who is arrested and imprisoned for being a terrorist. This weighs heavily on Ichmad and his brother Abbas, who are now forced to provide for the family.

Ichmad and Abbas are very close, only being a year apart, and Abbas nearly worships Ichmad. Abbas follows in Ichmad’s shadow, and their relationship is beautiful to watch unfold. Ichmad cares for Abbas and tries above all else to do what’s best for the family, and for Abbas.

Ichmad does get to visit his father in prison, and it is a heart-wrenching reveal of the time. It is his father’s courage and love that keeps Ichmad moving forward in life, even if it means breaking his family’s heart. Above all, he listens to and abides by his father’s wishes.

Courage, I realised, was not the absence of fear: it was the absence of selfishness; putting someone else’s interest before one’s one. I’d been wrong about Baba. He wasn’t a coward. How would we survive without him?

When Ichmad’s luck starts changing, he’s off to university and surrounded by some good friends. He faces some opposition at first, but overcomes it by helping others. This kind of paves a way for him with the soldiers and guards on campus. But at the end of the semester, Ichmad is accused of something by his professor, who has been in and out for military duty, and is expelled. Turns out his professor knew who Ichmad was the moment he stepped into his classroom on the first day, and he is not letting Ichmad live down the past, or the fact that his father is a terrorist.

“Sharpest mind I’ve ever encountered,” he said. My lips trembled and my eyes welled up. Suddenly, we weren’t a Palestinian and an Israeli, we were two mathematicians.

The hatred between the Israelites and Palenstinians, the Jews and Arabs, is overwhelming. It is the common thread and core of the entire novel. Ichmad has good friends who can see past this, for the person he is, and one saves him from ruin, but at a cost. Ichmad can continue, and in fact is responsible for the decision and fate of Professor Sharon. Through science, and a desire for fame and improvement for humanity, Professor Sharon placates Ichmad to conduct research for him. It is not until Ichmad brings some new and important ideas to the professor that he starts gradually accepting him, but very begrudgingly. They have several conversations about their lives, and the way things are. When Professor Sharon marries Justice, he starts changing his mindset of life, and his working relationship and personal relationship with Ichmad is transformed.

For a while, when things were going well for Ichmad in America, it seemed as though Ichmad was far removed from this. When he meets Nora, an advocate for peace that is a friend of Justice, he has found the woman he is meant to be with. There’s just one problem: his parents will never accept her, and it weighs heavily on him. He denies Nora’s outpouring of love and affection on numerous occasions because of his internal struggle with remaining true to his family. Kind words come from Baba to lighten Ichmad’s heart, and with the guiding hand that Nora’s parents have had in her life, leading her to a life of service to humanity, kindness, compassion and equality for all, they see no obstacle in their way. Unfortunately, there are hypocrites in the world, and Nora realizes she has been raised by two who preach equality, but do not believe in it. They are empty words of consolation to her. Ichmad’s mother and brother Abbas also cannot accept Nora, for she is a Jew. Although she is American, she is still a Jew. Abbas turns his back on his family, on his brother, and it is a heartbreaking moment that lasts nearly a lifetime for Ichmad.

Ichmad is again faced with a choice he must make, this time that his parents are more or less forcing on him. It is a choice that Ichmad is devoid of, he has become so detached from life. He agrees to follow his parents wishes, but is listless in his new life. His only care is embarrassment, almost shame. At this point in the novel, I lost respect for Ichmad, and I really did not like him. I could understand his pain, but he was almost cruel in the revelations of the changes in his life, and the ways in which he described and saw others.

Part I concludes with Ichmad winning a scholarship to university. His mother is scared and does not want him to go, fearing the family will not survive. It was a hard choice for Ichmad to make, but he held onto his father’s wishes for him.

Part II concludes with Ichmad embracing his dream and going to America to continue his physicist work. This is also when Professor Sharon opens himself up and truly begins his friendship with Ichmad.

Part III concludes with Ichmad and Yasmine trying to have children, going about Western methods and finally going about their heritage’s traditional methods, and Ichmad overcoming his embarrassment of Yasmine by finally allowing Menachem and Justice to meet Yasmine. This is when Ichmad redeemed himself in my eyes in the way he talked and described Yasmine as a mother. I saw Yasmine in a new, beautiful light and this is when their marriage is solidified and Ichmad allows himself to start loving Yasmine.

Part IV leaves readers with a sense of hope. Ichmad is trying to make up for all the time he’s lost with Abbas, and with Yasmine he is trying to get his entire family together. He is sixty-two years old at this time, and he and Yasmine (and eventually the entire family) travel into terror-ridden and restrained Gaza.

This novel starts off with pain, disparity, poverty, oppression, loss, death, fear. Ichmad, and by extension his family, goes through so much by starting at the bottom with nothing, and through Ichmad’s scholastic gifts he is able to improve the lives of his entire family. He loves his family and lives by his father’s values and beliefs, and wants more for them. He doesn’t want to change them, despite the changes he underwent when he came to the United States, which I applaud. Instead, he just wants to make their lives better with the small conveniences that most take for granted: a strong structure for a home, sanitation, hygiene, indoor plumbing, education. Ichmad has put his younger brothers and all thirteen of his sisters’ children through university. He wants them to have the opportunities he has had, he wants to provide for his family, but he always thinks of Abbas, and irrevocable day he discovers how to find him in the Gaza underground. He has done everything for his family, but he can no longer ignore Abbas absence from his life, and the extreme danger he is in. The novel ends with Ichmad in Gaza, with all of the same terms as the beginning of the novel: pain, disparity, poverty, oppression, loss, death, fear. Through Abbas’ choices, Ichmad may not be able to save his brother, but he is determined to try, and to reunite their family.

Through all of this, the almond tree is there. It was there as a playmate for Ichmad and Abbas when they were little. It was there to provide for the family after Baba was arrested. It was there to provide shade and shelter when the family had nothing else. It was there when Nora tried to protect his family’s home. It was there through all of the pain and celebrations for the Hamid family.

About the Author

Michelle Cohen CorasantiMichelle Cohen Corasanti received a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and an MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. A Jewish American, she lived in Israel for seven years and was married to a Palestinian Muslim for several years afterwards. Nearly a decade in the making, The Almond Tree grew out of the many stories Michelle heard and witnessed while living with Palestinians and Israeli friends and family she knew and loved in Israel and at Harvard. She currently lives in New York with her family.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Ends 6/15/14Almond Tree tour

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

Author Interview: John Owens

Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy. I’m great with kids and I love literature. 

970166_462246583856450_431601839_nJohn Owens is an editor, journalist, and photographer. Formerly, he was the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he oversaw brands including Road & TrackPopular Photography, and Travel Holiday. He has made more than 100 national media appearances, including Good Morning AmericaCBS This Morning, CNN, FOX News, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier post.

To read my review of John’s insightful book, go here.

Read the article that started it all. 

John left his publishing job at Hachette to become a classroom teacher – in the Bronx. He had heart, and he wanted to help. He learned much about his students, especially the educational needs they were lacking.

But he was going to find that his help wasn’t really required at Latinate Institute (pseudonym), a small public school focused on setting an example for reform. The administration needed teachers simply to push and enforce their “Big Ideas,” as Owens calls it. And when things don’t go according to the Big Plan…the teachers are to blame, and the students are just statistical performance numbers.

Owens gives various documentation to support his claims, including this excerpt from a 2002 report about school reform:

The primary responsibility of schools undertaking comprehensive school reform is creating programs that result in improved student achievement…..grounded in scientifically based research. 

At the end of the day, Owens is espousing what most who have been truly involved in their children’s educational life know: “scientifically based research” is driving all kinds of data about state education systems, school districts, campuses, subgroups and individual students – and that data that schools get back every summer is used to reward and punish teachers. Ironically, this new scientifically based method of education isn’t working – it’s been implemented for years, and yet we as a country are still far behind other countries in terms of education.  Owens points out that studies of charter schools, given more leeway in determining curriculum and length of school days – as well as not being subjected to some of the same regulations as public schools – fare no better in terms of performance than public schools.

It all comes down to really one thing: politicians and moneybags think they know what’s what’s best, yet they really know nothing about education. At all. Teachers, and sometimes even administrators, take the fall. I agree with Owens when he says that our educational system needs “a massive system overhaul”….but that would be too much work, and not a quick fix. All of the reform publicizes to be student-oriented, “students first,” but looking at the entire picture says otherwise: administration first.

You can find John on Facebook. 

Why did you decide to leave your Manhattan publishing job to teach in a public school in the South Bronx? What prompted your need to make a difference?

I love writing, reporting, photographing, communicating—and that has opened a number of doors for me—taken me around the world. However, publishing recently changed dramatically, and a corporate merger took the fun and creativity out of my job. I thought it would be rewarding to help young people build their communication skills. And I heard so much about the desperate need for teachers, and that schools were interested in career changers who weren’t master teachers, but had enthusiasm for their subject matter, real world experience to share, and were eager to work hard to help out.

Why did you write “the article that started it all,” as it’s been dubbed, for Salon.com? What did you think you would accomplish with the article?

I left teaching shell-shocked that NYC and our nation allow such horrible schools to exist. I reeled from how we are willfully neglecting and shortchanging students. When I shared my experiences with friends and colleagues, few believed me. Three pages of rules for how to create a bulletin board?! Tyrannical principals who had no regard for students or teachers?! Since I couldn’t help kids in the classroom, I felt an obligation to bring to light what goes on behind closed school doors.

How did writing the article transform into your book that’s now coming out on August 6th?

Just as I was shocked at the horrible teaching and learning experiences in our schools, I was also amazed by the viral response I got to the article. Teachers from throughout the country told me that they experienced these same conditions and insanity. And so I felt an obligation to try to help the American public understand the truth about teaching. The problem is NOT bad teachers. The problem is billionaires who are trying to treat students like widgets, and impose ridiculous management techniques in schools—so they can make a profit. Too many people who pretend they are education experts put students LAST. I saw firsthand how unfairly teachers are treated, and felt I had to make the public aware that the bad teacher witch hunt is bogus and must stop.

If things had been different – if the school administration was supportive and helpful– would you have stayed?

Absolutely. My plan was to teach until I decided to retire. I felt that I could have fun helping students with a wide variety of creative projects that would help them build real world skills and promising futures.

Do you feel that you failed your students?

I feel that our elected officials are failing an entire generation of students—intentionally. I was surprised that I couldn’t survive in today’s public school – but I hope I am helping to make a difference with my book and advocacy.

 Did you finish your three-year master’s degree at ESC?

That was not possible. I completed the first year. The second and third years were “mentored” teaching. It was required that I have a job as a teacher, with help from my college mentors. If you weren’t teaching you couldn’t continue. Having seen what I did, I realized that it was hopeless for me to try to continue. Once you’ve received a U – Unsatisfactory rating—in NYC schools, you can’t teach there anymore. I went back to publishing because I have a family and a mortgage.

 Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I am now the editor in chief of a chain of 17 community newspapers – Anton Community Newspapers – on Long Island, NY. In this position, I write articles and columns to help improve communities including, of course, public education.

What does your future look like, in terms of educational advocacy?

I am committed to helping get the truth out about what is happening in our schools. I will write/speak/champion wherever and whenever I can. Education leaders from throughout the nation were very kind in endorsing my book. And I am working with activist groups locally, regionally and nationally.

I will be a first-year teacher in Central Texas. I have already experienced the grade fluffing and supporting “social and emotional” needs of students and talk, talk, talk about classroom management in my field blocks and student teaching, as well as an special education system that has no structure or definition, causing IEPs from elementary school to die there, with documented needs and other necessary information not following students beyond 5th grade. What recommendations do you have for me as I embark on this first year?

First, congratulations on your commitment to becoming a teacher. That is wonderful! You deserve a great deal of respect.

Then, hold on to your hat—expect to be challenged in ways you never dreamed of.  I’m sure you realize that teaching is very hard, and that the first few years are difficult for all teachers, regardless of where you teach. Find a teacher to mentor you—and remember, at all times, that teachers make a huge difference in the world. Teaching is rewarding like no other profession.

Over 85% of Texas school districts use an educational curriculum support system, CSCOPE. Most teachers solely rely on CSCOPE for it’s curriculum instead of using it as supplemental curriculum, especially in rural areas, which have expressed that the current dilemma of removing CSCOPE would cause financial strain. What is your take on pre-developed curriculum programs such as this? Do you think it is contributing to the “bad teacher” rap? Is it making it easier for the slackers to make it through teacher prep programs? 

First, I want to make it clear that I did not encounter bad teachers or slackers in my grad program and my teaching. I think that people who go into teaching understand that they are embarking on a very challenging career. I think that the bad teacher rap is totally unfair—it is a way for politicians and deep-pocket businesspeople to break the all-important teacher unions and dismantle the public education system.

Of course there are some bad teachers—just as there are bad doctors, lawyers, etc. But few other groups have been targeted like teachers have.

I am not an expert on educational policy and I’m not familiar with CSCOPE. I think that teachers need and deserve the ability to decide what they need to do in the classroom, with the understanding that there are skills and reasonable standards that must be met.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you for reading! Please spread the word to end the “Bad Teacher Witch Hunt” and to help focus the public on the true obstacles to providing education for our students. Get involved in helping support teachers and students in public schools. Read Diane Ravitch’s blog and become a member of her organization, The Network for Public Education. Join forces with Parents Across America. And speak up so that we can save our precious American public education system before the so-called “reformers” cause irreparable harm.

GUEST POST by John Owens

Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

John left his publishing job at Hachette to become a classroom teacher – in the Bronx. He had heart, and he wanted to help. He learned much about his students, especially the educational needs that were lacking to be met.

But he was going to find that his help wasn’t really required at Latinate Institute (pseudonym), a small public school focused on setting an example for reform. The administration needed teachers simply to push and enforce their “Big Ideas,” as Owens calls it. And when things don’t go according to the Big Plan…the teachers are to blame, and the students are just statistical performance numbers.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier post. To read my review of John’s insightful book, go here.

This is the article that started it all. 

Why I Left Publishing To Teach In The South Bronx

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John Owens

By John Owens, author of Confessions of a Bad Teacher

When I left a high-level publishing job in a Manhattan skyscraper to teach English at a public school in New York City’s South Bronx, I thought I could do some good for underprivileged kids. I am a middle-aged professional, but I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy. I’m great with kids and I love literature.

My love of words has taken me from a troubled, working-class childhood to a wonderfully happy, successful life. I have been writing—and teaching others to write—for a long time. And I have enjoyed helping younger writers build great careers. During a three-decade career as a writer, editor, and corporate executive, I had traveled to more than a hundred countries, met heads of state, and picked up some wisdom about getting along and getting ahead in life that I thought was worth sharing with those just starting the journey. I wanted to make an impact directly with kids in the classroom. To use the cliché, I felt it was time to “give back.”

There was something else at work here, too. For want of a better word, I will call it patriotism. The flood of immigrants into New York City in recent years has been astounding. Currently, nearly 40 percent of the city’s residents are immigrants, according to data compiled by the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College. Queens and Manhattan have seen huge influxes from China. The Bronx and Brooklyn are teeming with Dominicans. Africans, especially from the central belt of the continent, are numerous in the Bronx.

Needless to say, the children who have come with or been born to these recent arrivals are the future of our country. They need teachers and mentors, guides to help them navigate what often is a new world. Teachers like I had growing up. Teachers who can present a passion for the greatness and potential of learning and the greatness and potential of America. Teachers who can make kids want to be upstanding, successful Americans.

You can find John on Facebook. 

Book Review: Confessions of a Bad Teacher

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Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education by John Owens (Sourcebooks, 2013)

John Owens is an editor, journalist, and photographer. Formerly, he was the Senior Vice President and Editorial Director at Hachette Filipacchi Media, where he oversaw brands including Road & TrackPopular Photography, and Travel Holiday. He has made more than 100 national media appearances, including Good Morning AmericaCBS This Morning, CNN, FOX News, and NPR’s All Things Considered.

For additional information about this book, see this earlier postYou can find John on Facebook. 

We talk about bad teachers, but too often we mean all teachers. 

I chose this book from a plethora available from publishers on NetGalley. Mainly I scope out fiction, but I singled out this book because it’s about education, and that’s what I do. With the evolving state standardized testing and the commentary I’ve overheard over the years about the backlash of poor performance, I knew this was something I had to read and share for all my fellow teachers out there — especially the new ones like me. I think most Americans can agree that our education system is broken, but those who have the power to change it don’t understand it. There have been many bills passed in the last 15 years that flew with the banner of improving education, but all they did was cripple education – and take away much-needed resources.

The principal and assistant principal were quite clear that Latinate was a model of school reform, and I quickly realized we were there to enforce that idea. 

In John’s school, he…

  • was told to “get together and figure out how to bring [a student] up to speed in [their] “spare time“” by the principal
  • had “observation reports and other alleged evidence that any shortcomings in [his] students’s academics or behavior was solely” his fault
  • had to insure that all of his students received passing marks on each failing assignment for each grading period – absolutely no failing grades on anything
  • was constantly berated for lacking classroom management skills, when conflicting instruction about it was presented by the principal and the hired mentors
  • was expected to teach in the poorest area in the nation, where students didn’t receive any special needs assistance due to budget cuts
  • was blamed for all the happenings in his classroom, due to him being “a bad teacher”
  • reported to the police by the school principal for holding his students 10 minutes after school for deplorable behavior
  • was threatened at every turn to receive a U (Unsatisfactory rating) by the principal (which, for first-year teachers meant he wouldn’t be allowed to teach in NY ever again)

If we are not willing to pay, we will have to leave some children behind. 

really want to discuss this book, with teachers vetted and new, and share the content and commentary I experienced while reading this book. But we’d be here for days, maybe weeks. Once I’d reached the halfway point in this book I realized my highlighting and noting in my e-book had significantly increased, indications of all the vital pieces of this book I wanted to share in this post. Unfortunately there are just too many, so I’ve tried my best to showcase what I found most important about Confessions of a Bad Teacher.

If you are a teacher or a parent of public school children, I urge you to read this book.

If you are a school paraprofessional/administrator (ahem, superintendents) or you sit on the school board, I urge you to read this book. It will shed more light on the workings of your teachers – and might be an eye opener to your high vantage perch.

If you pay public school taxes, volunteer in a school or other community events, take a look at this book. Perhaps you can find a place in the public school system that could utilize your skills as a community member and volunteer.

It seemed quite a lot when I first started (probably because I had to start and stop constantly), but it is well worth the read and provides insight into experiences and similar aspects that teachers all across the country are dealing with in their classrooms, with their principals, on their campus, and in their district. For parents, it will give a whole new meaning and definition to the job and duties of your child’s teacher, and the conflicting dilemmas they are often put in.

Owens doesn’t just spout off the shortcomings and cheating, from students all the way up the ladder to the principal; he provides evidence from various, related  well-publicized studies that have documented the particulars in classrooms and campuses across the country. Most of his students should have qualified and been tested for special education or other learning and behavioral disorders, such as dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). “But dealing with these students as the law required would have meant employing a school nurse and many more special-education teachers.” Our federal government has made it clear over the last 15 years or so that education is not an important concern for our country, with massive budget cuts every legislative session, usually with states following suit. Cutting corners is as old as time, but cutting out necessary positions for students with very strong needs, that is mandated by law they be given the option to receive, shows the absolute devaluation of our children and their education. And often, these are children of poverty. And they are the ones who experience the brunt and hardship of budget cuts.

So, instead of directly addressing the problems of these kids, the administration made the students’ problems the classroom teachers’ problems, pretending that they weren’t really special-education students at all. 

It’s a tough message to hear in today’s tight economy, but high needs schools are called that for a reason, and it’s time we started helping them,  not hurting. 

This book is filled with humor and sarcasm, with stories that I think almost anybody, regardless of your attachment to public education, can probably relate to with the evolution of the teenager over the course of the last few years. Indeed, one thing that struck me absolutely funny yet honestly true was a statement John received in the tonnage of paperwork for his New Teacher Orientation: We must never count on the copier working. So, so true. At least Latinate had the decency to warn him of that often occurring mishap.

Like Ms. P, America is demanding too much from its teachers without giving them the proper support to educate students effectively. 

John describes some things that were handed down during his New Teacher Orientation…and they are still handed down in teacher preparation courses, or in district policy. I experienced some of the same things during the course of my two-year teacher prep courses and field blocks (classroom field experience prior to student teaching). I was told in my middle school block (spring 2012) in a Central Texas consolidated school district that I “must support the social, emotional and academic needs of [my] students” just as Owens was instructed – but I had to go several steps further: I also had to support their physical and psychological needs – and all of this “support” must be documented in each lesson plan, and exactly how this support is provided. For example, if students would be out of their desks and moving around, I would have to include something to this effect in my lesson plan:

According to the NMSA, this lesson addresses student’s physical needs by allowing movement throughout the lesson. This alleviates the discomfort of students experiencing growth spurts and….

The kids, the teachers, and the administrators in the American public school system are awash in a sea of corruption. 

Also in the district that hosted me for my field blocks and student teaching, it was policy that students receive nothing below an 80 for all non-test grades, and nothing below a 70 on test grades. And the kids knew it too! When some found out they received a test grade between the 70-79 range, they immediately asked if they could retake the test for a higher grade – and they did this because the previous school year it was that way. Essentially, the administration gave unlimited number of attempts to have the highest grade possible on all assignments and tests, setting up students for an unrealistic outlook of the real world and life as they will experience it outside of the public education system. Students were sent to ZAP, an ineffective lunch program where students were responsible for getting their lunch and reporting to a designated classroom to complete their assignments, make-up work or corrections. A teacher volunteered her free period to act as a monitor and allow a space for students to complete their work. No administrator or other designated teacher on duty received a list of ZAP students and escorted them to ZAP. Only the student who cared about their work went to ZAP.

The same was the case with John Owens when he taught at Latinate: he could not give students less than a 65, to allow a 10 point range for students to bring up their grade to slightly above the fail line, which had been pushed back to 65 to reflect better passing rates. If he failed a student, he had to “insure that each failing mark for each marking period [was] reversed to a passing mark via makeup work.” In other words, doctor the grades; the grown-up form of cheating on a test. And it’s not just the teachers who must fudge the numbers, principals and administrators do as well, with several documented cases of school districts falsifying standardized test scores over the last several years. Obama’s Race to the Top, “which got underway in early 2010,” passes out rewards to states via federal funding – and the biggest way to do this is set up a measurable system where teachers are directly held accountable for their students’ standardized test scores. This has done nothing to help decrease the cheating epidemic in public education. Our educational system is “massaged, manipulated and invent[s] data [as] part of an even wider systematic failure in education evaluation.”

John discussed the two largest pieces of legislation that have effected education policy: George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barrack Obama’s Race to the Top. He explains exactly what NCLB was, how it was structured, and the aims of the act. It is quite a parallel to Obama’s Race to the Top, which he also discusses, but with one very distinct difference: NCLB measured school districts as a representative entity of its students based on their test scores, and Obama’s “Race” has given school districts and principals to fire teachers based solely on their students’ test scores. He talks about how policy makers and district officials are looking for a instantaneous miracles overnight, which we all know is impossible. Yet people keep trying to “fix” education and see immediate results. If not, you’re a bad teacher.

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all would be America recognizing that saving our educational system would be a long-term, big-budget project similar to the way we tend to look at things like wars

Like with John, classroom management was thrown around A LOT in my own teacher-training courses, most notably in my middle school field block. The topic of classroom management was grazed, but never discussed. Just that “it is all about your classroom management.” Your kids need to have routine and know your classroom management style. If you have classroom management, your kids won’t act up because they know what you expect. (I have three younger  brothers who not only push the envelope of my mother’s expectations, but tear it wide open, and have also done that in their classes, a most obvious observation that whoever says this is not truly in touch with the youth of today.) Like John, I’m still confused about classroom management. What exactly does it mean? How do you do it? Where’s the Teacher’s Instructional Manual to Classroom Management? Why isn’t there a rule book for this? Why does something Coach Jones uses in his classroom not work for Ms. Smith’s students?

The nuts and bolts of classroom management and instruction are essential to a teacher’s success, yet from what I could see, the people in teacher training and licensing haven’t’ gotten that message. 

No, indeed they haven’t. This is the number one issue for first-year teachers, because this is an area where teachers are left to their own devices…and often the reason those who had difficult first years leave the teaching field.

The Latinate Institute was “[F]ounded on the noble mission of helping kids who otherwise wouldn’t go to college,” and its primary responsibility was to “improve student achievement.”  Obviously you can see how that worked out, and how much we are failing our students. Owens left his first year teaching not quite half-way through the spring semester to go back into the publishing world because of the lack of support from his principal, and all of the corrupt and inane things he was required to do and ultimately blamed for. The principal and assistant principal were removed from Latinate at the beginning of the following school year by New York Department of Education officials. Owens also shares where his fellow teachers and some of his students ended up as the conclusion of this book. It is quite telling.

Owens gives 10 recommendations to start work on fixing our blatantly broken education system. But those recommendations, which are quite thought-out and excellent, are not going to go anywhere without a national conversation and push for a better education for the children of America.

If you want to help in some way, or want to find out exactly what’s going on in classrooms, Owens lists a few solid groups or individuals who have it figured out that you can partner up with to help, or just become more informed :

*Author’s Note: As a recent graduate, I’ve accepted my first teaching post in a Central Texas school district located in an area that has exploded over the last 10 years and is no longer considered rural as of this year. Based on things I experienced during my field blocks and student teaching, and the experiences John Owens had in his reform school described in this book, it’s a very real fear that I could be fired when my students’ test scores come in next summer. Indeed, both of the same grade-level, subject-level teachers I and my partner replaced were new teachers and are no longer with the district, and most of the teachers in my department from the 2012-2013 school year have left my campus and the district entirely. The fact that my district provides a first-year teacher mentoring program does nothing to ease my jitters of first-year teaching. If you are a veteran teacher, I would love to hear from you about your classroom management and all manner of other things! Email me at girlof1000wonders@gmail.com.