Tag Archives: Middle school

Classic Books From My Past

24 Apr

Books have been an integral part of my life. I despised, repeat despised, any kind of forced sport in the summer, and would rather spend my time curled up in my air-conditioned local library (shout-out to Kendall Young, seriously the best library I have EVER been in). If I wasn’t there, I was sitting on my bed with my Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies and any number of books. My bookshelf was always overflowing, and I never just checked out two or three books at a time. I was fortunate, in that my mother gave me $5 each month for my Scholastic book order. I was overjoyed when I received the thin-sheeted catalog and always stretched that money and bought the cheaper books. When a book sale came to school, I was given money there too. Sheer excitement for any and every book.

Now, I still read books meant for middle-school readers and have recently begun to restock my library as I had gotten rid of many over the years (why???). Here are a few (or more than a few) that helped shape my literary world and became quite dog-eared in the process.

(Note: Haven’t included board books or The American Girl classics from my past … OR a list of my absolute FAVE Sweet Valley Twins, those all seem like longer lists for another day. Also, these are just the ones I remember at the moment. I’m sure tonight, there will be a ton of other ones I wish I had mentioned.)

Interstellar Pig

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I never thought of myself as someone who enjoyed the science fiction genre, but this one just kicked serious behind. A boy goes on vacation, gets bored, starts playing games … with ALIENS. It’s pretty great.

The Giver

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What is not to love about this book? I still read it at least twice a year, and feel that it is the best Dystopian novel that I have ever read. Oh, I love The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Road, and stories like The Lottery – this one is just the best. Each time, I come away with a different conclusion.

Tuck Everlasting

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This was, for me, my Where The Red Fern Grows. That book made me cry just a bit too much. I became too emotionally invested in this book, and had to step away from it for awhile. (It was always a bit hard to separate fantasy from reality for me as a kid.)

Blubber

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This is the actual book cover of the one in my collection when I was younger, which I find somewhat disturbing now. It was my first Judy Blume book. And while it is an older read, I really find this book to be a great learning tool for children to prevent bullying. The main character isn’t exactly a nice person, and I really enjoyed having a non-hero as the story’s teller.

The Long Winter

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I never got rid of any of my Laura Ingalls Wilder books. That might have been blasphemous. And while I count all of her novels as “favorites,” this was my go-to. Every winter, without fail, I’d cozy up and learn about the plight of the Ingalls family and all of their neighbors during a horrible blizzard.

The Wish Giver

9780590420402Amazing. One of my absolute faves. After attending a local fair, four people are left with “wish cards.” Unfortunately, three of their wishes do not go as planned. SOOO GOOD!

The Indian In The Cupboard

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Going to be honest: If any doll or toy becomes real, I will instantly love it. There is one book, Melony, Melody, I don’t know, it starts with an ‘M’, about a mean fashion doll becoming real. The copy that my sister and I owned was in absolute pieces from the amount of times we read that sucker.

Charlotte’s Web

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“That’ll do, pig.” This book is just a classic. So sad, so poetic, so wonderful.

The Best Loved Doll

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I’m getting into more younger book territory here, but I have continuously read this book throughout the years. A little girl brings her favorite doll to a party. She could pick one of her more fancy dolls, something impressive, but she chooses to bring the one she loves best. It’s ratty and torn, but very loved. The Store Bought Doll and Corduroy come to mind when thinking of this book.

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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Oh, wow, this book is so good. Two children decide to run away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And live there. What is not to like about this story?

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

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Rats helping Mrs. Frisby (a mouse) and her family escape from spring plowing. It is such a beautiful tale, and it makes me cry every time.

The Baby-Sitters Club: Baby-Sitters On Board!

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I honestly wasn’t a huge TBC fan. I had a few of these on my bookshelf, but they were far outnumbered by the Sweet Valley Twins. Yet, I had one that I would read constantly, and this was it. The club goes on a cruise and to Disneyland (some have to work, while others can breeze on through the vacation, which I felt was unfair) but it tells the tale from multiple viewpoints (like the other books, but this one just worked even better). I wanted to be on that trip with them. I wanted to be Stacey (without diabetes) or Claudia (who was just plain awesome). Not Kristy, though. Never Kristy. She scared me.

Little Women

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I read this very early in my career as a reader. First, with one of those easy-to-read versions and moving on to the real thing. If it is not my favorite book, it is definitely in the top 3 of all time.

The Devil’s Arithmetic

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I have had the pleasure of seeing Jane Yolen speak on a few occasions. One of these days, I’m going to thank her for writing this book. During a Passover Seder supper, Hannah (who is Jewish) is transported to Poland in 1942, where she is sent to a Nazi concentration camp. It is an absolutely attention-grabbing read, and led to many, many other books on the subject of World War II. At the time period that I first read this novel, I was only buying books that told of tales from the Holocaust. I was pretty young, and I remember my parents taking away my WWII books because I couldn’t sleep at night. This is a book I recommend ANYONE read.

The Secret Garden

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This was not the book jacket of the book I own (to this day). Mine is beautiful, and I would stare at it for a long time before opening because of its breathtaking artwork. I would pretend that I had a secret garden, which was actually an outdoor art studio in my neighborhood. No one knew about it, except for obviously the photographer and his family, but I pretended it was all mine.

tumblr_m8tnl4nalC1qzgrn9o1_400R.L. Stine really should be mentioned because he was my gateway author to Christopher Pike. I mean, I read all of their books, reiterate ALL, but this is the book I will still read. A girl runs away from home and her problems, and ends up picking up a couple of hitchhikers. She reveals more and more of her back story, and it is just an absolutely wild tale. This one isn’t just a horror novel, it is one that makes you think. After reading this book, I was ready for the world that Stephen King offered.

Sweet Valley Twins: The Magic Christmas

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Ask any of my family members (extended, even) what my favorite books from yesteryear include, and they will say “Sweet Valley Twins.” I have them all. Every single one of them. I have read them all more than four or five times each. And when I was packing away my life’s belongings to move to NYC, this is the box of items I left at home for safe storage. I will never sell them. And while I love all of the books and specials, The Magic Christmas is my absolute favorite. After arguing and fighting on Christmas Day, the girls are transported along with their dolls to a magical land. I wanted to be one of the twins most of the time, but never more than in this novel. I still read it every Christmas.

I could have listed young adult or middle school books that I read now, like the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series, but I didn’t discover those until I was out of grade school. And there are so many other books I could list that I so enjoyed, like the Pick Your Own Adventure series, but these are the few I will still go to every once and awhile and get to remember what I was like as a kid. Reading these remind me of certain moments of my life and how I felt at those times. And so while I enjoy these books for the texts contained in them, I also read them to cherish my childhood once more.

The Valentine’s Day from H-E-double hockey sticks

18 Feb

A little late, but I just remembered this instance after the fact. Maybe for the better.

What I feel about this experience. Yes, still.

What I feel about this experience. Yes, still.

Perhaps this is one of those experiences that people repress and only remember in a flashback of horror. It has to be. So it makes sense that this instance was only remembered when the Valentine’s Day was almost over.

Middle school sucked. That is all there is to say about it. Perhaps that is why I’m drawn to writing for children, as my biggest escape was books. I don’t even try to give advice to kids who are in this age group, and only say, “I’m sorry” in response to “how can it get better?” Dude, I know that I’m not an exception and that everyone had a horrible middle school experience.

Seventh grade was the worst. That is why so many books and movies feature this awkward age. So how could the Webster City Middle School administration and teachers make it better? Oh, I don’t know, throw in a few mandatory dances, let us mingle with the opposite sex. I spent a considerable amount of time in the bathroom hiding during each of these experiences.

Valentine’s Day was legendary. Passed down information from the classes that came before us told of this day. Weeks before the event, every kid in my class whispered about the legendary seventh grade dance. A “computer” would set us up with a Valentine’s date, and we would have to dance with said student at the event that took place during the school day. So there was no getting out of it, unless you somehow luckily came down with a bad case of the flu. Those kids were lucky. A week before the dreaded dance, a printout of the pairings was placed next to our English teacher’s door. I remember moving my sweaty finger down the list until I found “Carrie Olson.” It wasn’t that I had a bad date, I just had never talked to this kid before. Not only that, but I had barely talked to any boy before. I wanted to throw up then and there.

It was funny, though, that the kids who were already dating were magically set up together. Funny, huh? That computer was smart. And by the way, dating in middle school meant sharing lockers, holding hands in between periods, and dancing at the Asbury Methodist Church dances together. It wasn’t the quintessential term of “dating” whatsoever. I remember trying to feign sickness that day. It didn’t work. Honestly though, I never told my parents about the dance. I was too embarrassed and nervous about the situation. My mother told me if she had known, she would have had no problem pulling me out for the day from this torture. Finally, an adult with some common sense.

That day I was a bundle of nerves. While the clock ticked closer to 2 p.m., I clutched my Trapper Keeper ever closer to my body. Finally the bell rang, and we were all hustled into Washington Central Gym.

Middle school dances were never pleasurable, consisting of the couples taking center stage while the gawky wallflowers stood on the sides feeling absolutely miserable. I remember walking home from these affairs, totally crushed, reaffirming that I was alone, ugly, and unwanted.

This dance took the cake. We had to, and I repeat had to dance with our date at least one song. So the teachers made sure that we weren’t hiding in the bathroom or cowering in a corner. My date and I never made eye contact, let alone talked. We were only touching each other’s bodies with our fingertips, at least two feet away. It felt like those minutes stretched to hours. When the song was finally over, we ran to opposite sides of the gym, recounting how awful the experience was with our friends. We then stood there, eyeing the clock, waiting for 3:13 p.m. to appear so we could run away from that day. And when the bell rang, we bolted.

So that was it. An hour of pure hell. Did I learn anything from it? No. Did it make me a better person? Uh, no. If my teachers knew that I was only going to repress the memory and write about it later in life, then good job. But it wasn’t a helpful experience, to say the least. It was forced, during an absolutely hellish time period for adolescents. If their goal was to help kids learn to socialize, it was an experiment that had gone wrong. We’d all get there eventually, but it would be a few years later down the road. In high school, at least you had the choice of torturing yourself with a school dance. This was just plain wrong.

Middle school teachers – basically what I am saying is that I am thankful that this event was canceled a couple years after our class. And I’m pretty happy that something like this would never fly in today’s standards. Middle school is hard enough – don’t make it harder. If you can’t tell, I’m still bitter about the whole experience. Yes, still.

My day as “Mud Girl”

7 Jan

 

While I usually have a lot to say on the joys of childhood, I don’t have much to add to the topic of the joys of middle school. For there wasn’t any. At all.

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http://messengernews.net/page/blogs.detail/display/81/My-day-as–Mud-Girl-.html

I don’t have a lot of luck venturing out in the winter weather. Either I have to spend eight hours of my day in soggy shoes and socks or I have to look at the tatters of my once new-looking tights – a victim of falling on the slick sidewalks. I’ve had many bruises, scabs, and even a stitched-up chin from the icy ground. Yet with all my sob stories on the subject, none come close to the sordid tale that my 13-year-old self had to endure.

It was seventh grade. And while I wasn’t unpopular, I also wasn’t a standout. And in my ability to become invisible, I had found one outlet that I excelled at. Maybe being first-chair clarinet in band isn’t the most coveted of positions, but for me, it was. I could play scales like it was my business and was lucky enough to be chosen for quite a few honor bands during that time period. Something I incessantly bragged about to my other classmates who could care less.

On a slushy winter day, my friend Katie and I headed to Simpson College for one of those events. I had prepared night and day for this competition. And after nerve-wracking tryouts for chair competition, I was able to secure the top spot of all clarinet sections.

Wasn’t this a highlight. Waltzing into the college cafeteria, I felt pretty important among my counterparts. For there was third-chair girl in the second section, and lookie-here its fourth chair in third-section boy – how disappointing for them.

As depressing as it might sound, it was my time to shine – for about an hour and a half. Katie and I both sat at the “popular” table that day, as we both had made good impressions with our fellow band nerds.

It was after lunch that things suddenly soured. There was a large hill outside of the building, covered in snow. Some of the boys in their dress clothes dared others to slide down the hill. At that moment, I was not lacking in confidence and wanted to savor my cool factor for as long as I could. I boldly declared that, I, Carrie Olson, would roll down the hill. And I did. Into a gigantic mud pile at the bottom.

My hair was coated in mud, as was the rest of my body. In seconds, I had become a mud monster clawing up the hill to get back to my comrades. But they had all scattered, back to the rehearsal hall for practice. Into a bathroom I went, were paper towels sopping in water and soap could not wipe the humiliation or compacted dirt away.

So I went wandering around the deserted campus. After failing to find my band director, “mud girl” desperately ran to the car we had traveled to Des Moines in. A pair of extra clothes was sitting in a bag behind the locked windows. For a moment, I pondered the implications of slamming a rock through the window – but quickly found my bearings.

After defeat, I wandered back into the music building’s public bathroom, locking myself in a handicapped stall with my soapy paper towels. It had been a good 45 minutes, as hot tears flowed and my embarrassment got the best of me. I wouldn’t be remembered by my musicianship but my mud.

A couple college-aged girls entered the room and while fixing their make-up, talked of how campus police were searching for a middle school student lost at the college. In my foolishness, I hadn’t realized that not showing up for practice would worry the adults at the event. Bursting out of the stall, I yelled, “It’s me!”

Surprised, the girls ushered me, all blurry-eyed, to an instructor who had been in charge of finding me. It was then that I was able to get a hot shower and borrow some sweats before my parents finally arrived with new dress clothes for me to wear for the concert.

After a pep talk by my mom and dad, I went out and performed decently. I tried to get the trauma out of my mind. It was quickly relived as a boy came up to me after the competition in line at a local Wendy’s, saying to me, “You’re the girl who sat in the mud …” “Shh,” an adult woman said to him quietly. “She’s probably embarrassed enough.”

Reality set in. I would be ‘mud girl ‘to these people. Not ‘good at the clarinet’ girl. Popularity over. Sigh.

Most people will look at this moment with a smile and talk about how hilarious it now seems. And it is, to some extent. But what I most remember about that moment was the complete humiliation that I had to endure. This wasn’t the first (and definitely not the last) time that my self confidence had soared, only for me to get knocked down peg or two soon after.

Did I get any insight from this situation? Did I learn anything? Not really, just don’t be an idiot. Be a bit smarter. And damn you, snow.

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