Museums, Memories and Murder

Liliana’s Invincible Summer by Christina Rivera Garza

Long, planned letters or scribbled notes in the margins of her lecture notes. Poems transcribed cleanly and carefully, over and over again. Song lyrics. The last time she picked up her purple-ink ballpoint pen was on July 15, 1990, at 10:30 AM. Eighteen hours later, according to her death certificate, Lilana stopped breathing” (Liliana’s Invincible Summer)

Years and years and years ago, I decided to go to London alone. It was a wonderful trip. I went to plays and palaces, museums and galleries. One such visit was to the Saatchi Gallery. There was a little room amongst the exhibit of the shark in formaldehyde and the bust of a man carved in frozen blood. The walls of this room were covered in drawings, pages and pages of writing. When you entered the room and began to read, you began to realize that you were reading the journaling of a young teenage girl. She wrote of loves and fears and day-to-day life. Soon you were immersed in the life of this girl, you began to know her a bit, and you definitely began to like her. Near the exhibition’s exit were newspaper articles telling of a murder, her murder. It was one of the most impactful gallery installations I have ever experienced. Since then, I’ve tried to find the name of it online but to no avail.

Why am I sharing this memory? Because while reading Christina Rivera Garza’s book Liliana’s Invincible Summer, I had the same experience. 

Garza’s book is a detailed account quest to acquire the police file of her sister Liliana’s murder. With the information from this file, letters, notebooks, journals, photos, interviews and her own memories, Garza pieces together a mosaic, her sister’s tragedy, in an attempt to understand why and how Liliana could have been so brutally murdered by a boyfriend. Garza does this skillfully, not editorializing but rather allowing us, the readers, to be immersed in her sister’s story, slowly getting to know Liliana for ourselves and making her death emotionally impactful.

There are a number of ways I would use this in the classroom as a mentor text. Garza’s writing is incredibly poetic. What could very easily have become a “Dateline” treatment of her sister’s murder ended up instead as an extended poem of sorts, woven with facts and emotion. So the amount of research and how it was organized is extremely impressive. 

I also really loved Garza’s sentence structure. I am a huge fan of sentence fragments juxtaposed beside long sentences. I find it SO impactful. “They were always there, bulky and lined up next to each other, on the top shelf of the closet. Seven cardboard boxes and about three or four wooden crates painted in lavender. Liliana’s possessions. (Liliana’s Invincible Summer)

And how beautiful is this sentence: “Childhood ends with a kiss. The dream is not hundreds of years old, and the fleshy mouth does not belong to prince charming, but that pure expectation that is childhood finally comes to an end with a kiss. Lips on lips. Teeth. Saliva. Shortness of breath. Eyes open. Childhood ends with the inauguration of secrecy.” (Liliana’s Invincible Summer) We could talk about SO MANY things (theme, metaphor, allusion, imagery, sentence structure, all with this small excerpt!

This book has so much potential in the classroom.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for the free advanced copy.

Liliana’s Invincible Summer will be on shelves February 28th.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

by Kate Beaton

Wow, I did not know what to write for this one.

I loved it. It disturbed me. It made me laugh and tear up and feel insurmountable rage. In fact, the rage that has stuck with me.

Ducks is a graphic novel that tackles a variety of issues: environmentalism, indigenous rights, a sense of home, and sexual harassment. Heavy, I know, however, Kate Beaton doesn’t use her graphic novel to lecture us on these issues No, she simply and honestly retells her experience moving to For McMurray and working at the oil sands. This is an important book that will leave you thinking about it long after you read it. I would definitely use it as part of a novel study in High School Social Studies and English classes.


by Jesse Wente

A must-read.

Wente “argues that ‘reconciliation’ is a flawed concept; peace between First Nations and the state of Canada can’t be recovered through reconciliation because no such relationship ever existed”. Wente’s writing is powerful; he conveys his message clearly, using his experiences growing up as an Indigenous person in Canada.

I would use this book in my classroom, and should be in every school library.

An important author,

an important book,

an important message.

Reflecting on 2020 and setting goals for 2021

Welcome, 2021!

Last week I reflected on my year of reading. The titles, the genres, the authors. Around March last year, I had to take the reality of my “COVID mindset” and my inability to focus into consideration and set a milestone much lower than I usually do at 50 books. As an English teacher and book blogger, this felt like a failure. This year, however, I am confident I can air higher than 50 soooooo I’m thinking 60?

So, what have I learned about myself as a reader?

  • I read more non-fiction (yay one of the goals I DID meet)
  • General fiction made up the bulk of my titles (mostly mystery and fantasy)
  • I included graphic novels.
  • A handful of audiobooks made my list (mostly non-fiction)


fiction-  Mexican Gothic (review to come) by Silvia Moreno Garcia

non-fiction- The Heart and Other Monsters by Rose Anderson

audible- Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

YA- Legendborn by Tracy Deonon

Graphic novel: Long Way Down based on the novel by Jason Reynolds artist Danica Novgorodoff 

Fantasy: The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo(review to come) 

Reading goals for 2021

  • 60 titles
  • Increase Science fiction and poetry. 

I need your help, my fellow book addicts, please send me titles of your favourite Science fiction reads and poetry books (preferably contemporary!!!

What was your favourite read of 2020? What are your goals for 2021

Happy reading!

The Continuing Adventures of Antonia Gigglegoose….

Antonia Gets a Job

Once there was a young girl named Antonia Gigglegoose. Antonia came from a very large family. There were Gigglegoose brothers in the first and second grade, and Gigglegoose sisters in the fourth and fifth grade, and there were even Gigglegoose triplets in kindergarten! Antonia herself had just finished the third grade. 

That summer Antonia’s older sisters got jobs. Anastasia Gigglegoose (who was just about to start the sixth grade) was getting paid for babysitting the Gigglegoose triplets when mother and father were busy. You see the Gigglegoose triplets were MONSTERS wrecking everything and making all sorts of sticky, gooey messes in their wake. Antonia did NOT want a job taking care of the monsters. Antonia’s other sister Arabella Gigglegoose (who was about to go into in the 5th grade) got paid five cents every time she washed and dried the supper dishes and kept track of her pay in a little orange notebook she had gotten for Christmas.

“I want a job”, Antonia demanded to her mother.

“When you are in 5th grade, you can have your sister’s dishwashing job. For now, you are going to have to make do with your allowance, “Mrs Gigglegoose quipped as she was changing the light bulb above the bathroom sink. 

“Fine. I’ll get a job on my own,” Antonia huffed and marched out of the bathroom.

“Let me know how it goes! I’ll need to know how much to charge you rent!” Teased Mrs Gigglegoose.

Antonia went off to her Breadbox home to contemplate her job opportunities. Antonia’s breadbox home was indeed just that, an old bread crate she had converted into a little “home of her own”.

“I could be a snow shoveller,” Antonia mused, but snow only existed a few months of the year, and Antonia figured she would need to work more than that if she were ever going to be considered a career woman.

“A shoe tier?” Possible. But most of the Gigglegoose children had Velcro on their shoes and therefore didn’t need anyone to help them put on their shoes. However, they usually frolicked about in bare feet, paying no attention to footwear.

“I’ve always wanted to be a bus driver,” thought Antonia. “The only thing is that I don’t know how to drive. I guess Oh well, I guess I’ll have to practice.”

So, Antonia went to retrieve her bike from under the patio and proceeded to pedal her bike up and down the driveway until she felt she was skilled enough to responsibly transport children to and from school.

“Hmmm. Now I’ll need to find some kids to pick up”. To solve this problem, Antonia went into the house and came back with her Winnie Walker doll.

Skipping rope in hand, Antonia proceeded to tie Winne to the back of her bike. Then, after Winnie was secure, Antonia neatly got on her seat and peddled away down the driveway. 

“Why hello Hammersmith children. Welcome to my bus” Antonia had stopped and pretended to open the door of the bus. “Be sure to keep your feet off the back of the seat in front of you. I don’t want to kick you off my bus and have you walk to school”.

Antonia peddled a bit further down the road. “Nice to see you made it on time to catch the bus this fine morning Yoloyellows. Make sure you remember to take your lunch with you into school this morning Yanny Yoloyellow. You don’t want to leave it on the bus like you did yesterday and then feel hungry all day”.

Her final stop was the Barterbertals. “Wade Barterbertal, I want NO more farts from you today. You almost exterminated the entire bus yesterday. Be sure to open your seat window so that we don’t faint if you do let one go and I unconsciously drive the bus into the ditch”. 

Antonia drove up and down the driveway making her way to “school”. Making sure to be safety conscious, every once in a while Antonia would stop at imaginary traffic lights and crosswalks.. Antonia was almost all the way to school when there was an awful crunching noise, and her bike came to a standstill. She could no longer pedal. Something was caught in the spokes of her back tire. “Oh, no!” Antonia thought to herself, “I hope that isn’t a flat tire”.

Antonia stopped, stepped off of her bike carefully, put the kickstand down and turned to look to see what the problem was.

To her horror, Antonia noticed that Winnie’s leg had gotten caught in the spokes. Big tire scrape marks could be seen crisscrossing down Winnie’s leg. “Oh, no! Winnie. Noooooo!” Antonia quickly untied the skipping rope that had been holding Winne to her banana seat then grabbed Winnie by the hair and ran to the house sobbing uncontrollably. “Winnnnnnnnnnnnnnnieeeeeeeee is dying.” She cried.

Antonia’s mother came running from the garage to see what all the bellowing was about. “Antonia! What is the matter? What is wrong?” 

“It’s Winnie! She got caught in my school bus!” Antonia wailed an buried her face into her mother’s shoulder.

“Caught where?”

“In my school bus. I was practicing being a school bus driver with my bike, and Winne’s leg got caught in the wheel.” Antonia howled.

“Antonia calm down, calm down. Let’s take a look”. Antonia’s mother gently took Winnie from Antonia’s arms. Well. I don’t think she’ll lose her leg, but she will have a scar. Come with me, and we will patch her up”. 

Antonio followed her mother and Winnie to the bathroom. Antonia’s mother placed Winnie on the clothes hamper then opened one of the drawers and pulled out the toothpaste.

“Why, toothpaste? Winnie’s teeth aren’t broken.” Antonia asked her voice, muffled by her hanky. 

“Well”, her mother said, “Let’s pretend its antibiotic ointment that will help keep the germs away from Winnies wound”. Then Antonia’s mother put a little bit of toothpaste on her finger and gently wiped it all over the tire marks imprinted on Winnie’s let. She then squirted a tiny bit of toothpaste on Antonia’s finger and had her wipe it all over Winnie’s wound as well.

Next, Antonia’s mom took out the Band-Aids. Gave two to Antonia and instructed, “I think two of these will work. Leave them on for two days and then wipe off the ointment. Winnie should be fully recovered by then.”

Winnie seemed much improved with the toothpaste and band-aid treatment. Antonia hugged her mother “Thank-you. I thought I lost Winnie for good and I haven’t been a bus driver long enough to make enough money to pay for a funeral.”

“Good grief Antonia, getting hurt by a bike doesn’t cause sudden death.” Her mother said in exasperation. 

“It wasn’t a bike accident. It was a bus accident”, Antonia responded curtly, and with that, she took Winnie and went back outside to park her bus properly.


The next day Antonia’s mother went to brush her teeth and noticed the toothpaste was missing. She looked everywhere, even in the clothes hamper and in the bath tub. But she could not find the toothpaste anywhere. “Gigglegoose children! Where is the toothpaste?” Mrs Gigglegoose bellowed from the bathroom.

“I dunno” yelled Anatasia Gigglegoose. “It was there this morning”.

As Mrs Gigglegoose was slamming a bathroom drawer, she happened to glance out the window. There she saw Antonia riding her bike up and down the driveway at full speed stopping to tend to the various dolls that happened to be scattered about the yard. 

“Weeeeoooooo, wheeeeeeoooooooo”, Antonia was yelling. “Out of the way people, the Ambulance is here. Weeeeeoooooooo, weeeeeeooooooo.”

“I guess Winnie has decided that driving a bus wasn’t for her. Mrs Gigglegoose smiled to herself then promptly went to the kitchen and wrote “t-o-o-t-h-p-a-s-t-e” on the shopping list that was stuck to the refrigerator. “Hmmm, I wonder how dollies will require medical attention this week? I better buy 10 tubes.”

The Heart and Other Monsters

The Heart and Other Monsters by Rose Anderson

In this non-fiction piece, Rose Anderson writes of the death of her younger sister due to a drug overdose. Her sister’s death serves as the focus of this memoir, and around it, Anderson shares her own personal history. The memoir seems to serve as a means of healing for the author. It is a very heart wrenching read as we hear of Anderson’s struggle with dealing with her grief and her attempt to understand why her sister lived such a tragic life.

I read this book in one evening. It was impossible to put down. It is raw and real and very very heart wrenching but at times possessive of poetic language and imagery.

Read it.
It is amazing.

Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the free ARC

The Unexpected Spy

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of The Unexpected Spy through Macmillan and Netgalley. This is the true story of a young woman’s experience being recruited by the CIA right out of university and getting immersed into the world of searching for terrorist activity. She then makes a move to the FBI, and then ultimately and bravely makes the decision to become a high school History teacher.

Sadly, this is the first TRUE story I’ve read about a woman’s experience as a spy. Now, I know there are probably other memoirs out there and maybe it’s because I’ve had my head buried in historical fiction and murder mysteries that I’ve never come across them.

I so enjoyed this book. Maybe it was because I wanted to be a secret service agent when I was a kid. In seventh grade was the attempted assassination of President Regan. I was obsessed. I clipped all the newspaper articles of the assassin and kept them in a folder. I would read, and reread the contents of my folder, imagining myself in a dark suit and sunglasses shoving the President aside and taking down the assassin with one perfectly aimed gunshot, thus saving the day. Or maybe because Tracy, like me, is a high school teacher, and I too, find joy and fulfilment educating and inspiring young women.

Tracy’s journey was not an easy one. She is honest about the sexism and harassment that exits in both the CIA and the FBI. She is often patronized and treated with condescension with a constant pressure of having to prove herself. I appreciated how she paralleled childhood insecurities she possessed as a child with the experiences she was experiencing in their professional life. It is these parallels that make me strongly consider this as a welcome addition to any classroom library.

Walder’s story would serve as a strong non-fiction choice for literature circles. Walder’s book is well written, honest and indeed inspiring. High school is a time where young women need to be exposed to a plethora of examples of what they can do with their life outside of high school. I don’t believe “spy” is an option most women consider an option and how wonderful is it to know that you can choose to live a life of adventure saving the world from bad guys!

In Love with the World

One of my New Year’s reading resolutions is to increase my exposure to non-fiction. I’m always looking for ways to help keep my anxiety under control, so I figured if I read In Love with the World about the journey of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk I may get some pointers. And Pointers I did find! Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche decides to run away from his monastery and truly be out on his own, all alone in the world in order to embark upon a “wandering retreat”. During this time he discovers who he really is, without the label monk, son, teacher, friend. He would just “be” and accept whatever the world presented. Without money. Without food. Without title.

This book is compelling so much, so I found myself highlighting points I found personally profound. Some of the lessons I learned were: I should try to be brave enough “to expose [myself] to circumstances so unfamiliar as to make me familiar with myself. (pg. 13). So lead a life of adventure. Do not be afraid of change. Perfect encouragement to start the new year. Another lesson: If [I] can train [myself] to slow down and [watch] my thoughts -not to get carried away from them but just to notice-[I] will be amazed by the universes that [I] traverse moment after moment (63).” This is a tough one. Anxiety makes it difficult to “still” my mind. This will take practice. Lesson three: and ultimately “all that we are looking for in life- all the happiness, contentment and peace of mind- is right here in the present moment. Our very own awareness itself fundamentally pure and good…make space in your life to recognize the richness of your basic nature to see the purity of your being and let its innate qualities of love, compassion and wisdom naturally emerge. (252).”

Such beautiful words to know that in our awareness of whatever we happen to be experiencing, whether it be love or fear, sadness or joy, likes the capacity for goodness and pureness. Now we just have to remind ourselves of this when it matters most.