Back to the Grind

On my way back to the grind...
I’m sure there are things that would have made my return to work easier.

If baby Gabe wasn’t so perfect, his lashes, his coos, his snuggles beneath my chin. That would have made it easier.

If my school wasn’t quite so awful, was cleaner. If my classroom hadn’t been thrashed by the traffic of the one hundred fifty-odd students who traipse in and out everyday. That would have made it easier.

If I had an easy, clean, private space to pump and rinse the bottles and cones with water that wasn’t labeled undrinkable and a refrigerator to store expressed milk until the end of the day. That would have made it easier.

If my schedule wasn’t dictated by the ring of a bell. If I could pump and pee when I needed to instead of depending on the bell schedule or the field trip or the testing schedule on any particular day. That would have made it easier.

If it wasn’t that time of year. Instead of teaching, I am a test proctor, a computer re-starter, a warning bell that your time is almost up. If I was teaching sonnets and slant rhymes, black out poetry and onomatopoeia, instead of watching students tip tap click clack on keyboards and staring at screens. That would have made it easier.

But Gabe is lovely, and so is Kiara. I have amazing help from David. My students are brilliant poets and many of my colleagues are supportive. That makes it just a little bit easier.

So even though it’s hard, even though it’s not easy, I know it could be so much harder. Women are doing everything, everywhere, everyday. Or maybe are staying home facing all of those unique challenges. All I know is that motherhood has taught me what so many have known: this is the hard work of life. 


National Poetry Month: April Challenge of a Poem a Day

Our little April Fool... 
For the past couple of years I've worked with my students to compose 30 poems and put together collections during April for National Poetry Writing Month. This year April begins as I'm still on maternity leave and my students are on spring break, but I wanted to get started so I sought out some resources to help me along. If you want to read or write with me, here are links to sites I'm using to help me write a poem a day this April. 

This first one by Writer's Digest and offers prompts each day (and contests if you're interested).

This one other a poem each day that can provide inspiration (as well as poems from previous years). 

Here is my first poem inspired by Kiara's birthday this past week. 

April Fools

Today passed like any other twenty-four hour day
the dawn light seeping into the sky
and through our windows
and then seeping out the door that night

but today I was able
on several occasions
to imagine myself in a few years
looking back on this day

when she turned three
just two months after he was born
when we were on spring break
groping blindly through the early days of parenting two

and while our children slid around us
with their perfect lips and eyes
with their ten fingers and toes
so sweet and vulnerable

we played fools
the two of us together
hoping no one would notice
our desperate attempts at creating


2015 Progress: Writing, Reading, Submitting, Blogging, and Exercising Update

And just like that, 2015, which seemed to just begin, is already one fourth over. It's been a big first quarter for me with Gabe Ichiro entering the world, so I'm already playing catch-up on my goals for the year. Who would have thought that having another kid would cut into my schedule? Well, anyone who has two kids could have told me that and I'm sure they did, but I wasn't listening. Nonetheless, here is where I stand as of the end of March for 2015.

Writing: I want to try to put in 5 hours at the page per week (20 per month). Come on. This seems completely reasonable, but somehow I'm already behind. I did great in January, but once the sleep deprivation of newborn life set in, my productivity plummeted, so I'm at 40 hours for the year, about 20 hours behind. I need to up my average for the rest of the year in order to catch up.

Reading: I finished only 3 books: Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. I'm 9 back...

Submitting: My goal for this year is to submit work for publication once a week (4 per month). This is way beyond the amount of submitting I've ever done in the past. I've submitted 4 pieces and the rejections are already coming in! Still, I'm behind and need to double up for a few weeks in order to catch up. 

Blogging: I'm back to publishing on the blog once a week (4 per month) and with 8 posts so far, I'm only 4 behind. And for the month of March, I logged the highest readership on the blog in history. Yay, milestone!

Exercising: I want to cover 10 miles per week (40 per month) and while I was very pregnant and recovering from the c-section I took several weeks off. That has me at 54 miles  for the year so part of getting back in shape will be upping my mileage. 

"His Lashes" a visual poem.
So, that's it. I'm not too worried about being behind because I have this little guy distracting me...

This morning David reminded me of a Herm Edwards quote: "A goal without a plan is just a wish." Even though I'm behind on my goals, at least I have a clear plan to get me there. 


Snapshots from 28 days Post-Partum: Our First Few Weeks at Home

Our new normal...
Here is my second post about my post-partum recovery. Click here for the first...

Home. Some women want to stay at the hospital for as long as possible and I can see why. Meals and pain meds appear magically and help is available at the push of a button. But I was anxious to get home. Going home meant no more nights interrupted by nurses and doctors, but more so it meant comfort and getting to see Kiara and beginning to settle in to the new normal of life as a family of four.

Days 3-5: My sister, Yukiko, and Dad stayed with us for these first few days which was an incredible help. Yukiko cooked and cleaned and held baby. Dad held baby too and although having him there reminded me of the loss and absence of Mom, his presence also reminded me of the preciousness of this time together. In terms of healing, I alternated taking ibuprofen and NorCo every three hours. I continued bleeding but not very heavily. My incision area felt numb but there was no bleeding. It was a challenge lifting myself out of bed or up from the couch with no abdominal strength, but I somehow figured out how to roll out of bed for late-night feedings. Baby-boy had his first check-up on day 5 and was putting on weight so we were looking good.

Kiko: best post-partum-helper ever!!!
Days 6-7: That first weekend home, exhaustion and possible postpartum depression started to seep in around the edges of my recovery. Lots of visitors, very little sleep, and nipple soreness had me cranky and wanting to be left alone. Nursing was easier the second time around only in that I knew what it required. It was still painful, particularly those first moments getting latched, but I knew i just had to get through this part and it would get easier. I started moving a little more efficiently with my compromised abs and at some point in here I weighed myself: 22 pounds heavier than I was when I got pregnant. Ugh.

Day 8: Baby-boy turned one week old and things quieted down a little. My sister and Dad flew back to Portland leaving David home to help. Kiara spent her days at daycare so I was able to get lots of rest which helped me feel less overwhelmed. After days of stool-softener and coffee the pipes moved! I can't say they were flowing freely, but we had movement that clogged the toilet.

Day 9: I walked half-a-block to get coffee on day nine and although I have no idea if there was a connection, I started bleeding from my incision that afternoon along with heavier bleeding (which had subsided to nearly nothing the previous two days). I called a nurse for advice and she wasn't too concerned but she told me if I developed a fever or redness and worsening to go to the ER.

Day 10: The next morning the bleeding was worse so I called the nurse back and scheduled an appointment to see an ObGyn that afternoon. The doctor checked out the incision, removed the surgical tape that remained and irrigated the wound. He collected a sample for the lab and sent me on my way.

Days 11-13: I tried to take it easy for the next couple of days to let the incision heal. I finished the NorCo and the ibuprofen alone was fine for pain management.

Day 14: After a nice walk to the farmer's market in the morning and feeling like I was doing better, my doctor called to let me know I had an infection and started me on antibiotics. Booooo.

Days 15-17: My incision was still bleeding and I still had some bleeding (last of the lochia?) but finally things started clearing up. Finally! Thankfully breastfeeding was going well and was less painful or I would have been a mess. David went back to work so Gabe and settled into quiet days at home, nursing and binge-watching tv. I tried to write and read a little each day, but sleep usually won out over creativity.

Day 18-25: I tried to continue to take it easy even though I was feeling restless. Nursing sessions started stretching to two-hours apart and Baby-boy started sleeping more at night. I finished the antibiotics and figured I was back on track.

Day 26: Mysterious itchiness! I hadn't eaten anything different or used any new products but that night I started itching. It started at my knees, belly, and back. Itchy, itchy all night and the next day it got worse. I figured it was just hormone changes but who knows. The worse came when these hives hit my mouth and I looked like I'd had bad botox. I was convinced this baby had ruined my body and I'd be itchy for the rest of my life.

Day 27-28: The hives continued through the next day, but by evening my face returned to normal and the itching subsided. I was no longer bleeding. From anywhere. Yay! My milk production was good and Gabe started taking a bottle when needed so pumping allowed me to get a break from being the sole provider of nutrition which was a big relief.

So, after four weeks, I finally felt like I had my body back. Although it seemed like forever with that infection and a touch of the baby blues, overall my recovery was smooth but it only feels that way because it's over.


Snapshots from 28 days Post-Partum: The Hospital Stay

There is so much out there about birth stories, and pregnancy, and parenting but there is so little about the early days postpartum and the recovery for women. It probably has a little to do with the fact that new mothers are too exhausted, too caught up in day-to-day survival to take note of what those early days are like. And lets be honest, much of it is quite unpleasant to experience so looking back on it is no treat. But, while it's fairly fresh in my mind and body, I thought I'd try to capture my experience this go around. This first post is about the hospital stay and the next will be about those early days at home.

These posts are not for everyone. They will contains descriptions of bodily functions so proceed if you'd like. Here are a few snapshots from the first four weeks after the birth of Baby-boy.

Day 1: The immediate recovery after my early-morning scheduled c-section was all about getting Baby-boy to latch and regaining feeling below the waist from the spinal anesthesia. Baby seemed to know what to do and latched naturally even though it was awkward to hold him because I couldn't sit up. Thankfully hospital beds prop up.

I was tired, but the adrenaline of the new baby and a steady stream of visitors kept me from sleep.

Initially my legs were completely numb, but feeling returned slowly after a couple of hours starting with tingling and then suddenly I could move them again. Nurses applied legs compressors to help with circulation. The IV kept pain meds flowing so I was comfortable and a little groggy.

 I was able to capture this moment from my hospital bed...
before getting sick.  
The rest of the day involved continuing to nurse and waiting for my appetite to return. I started slowly with water and then jello. Nurses took my vitals every two hours and I was able to stay awake and greet friends and family who stopped by to meet the boy.

A lactation consultant came in and gave me the latest advice for getting newborns to latch. Gabe found his way to nursing after a while and I was able to nurse in a pretty relaxed position for the rest
of the day and night.

Apparantly, I wasn't ready for food. Twice that first day I threw up, the second time I managed to projectile vomit bright red liquid jello all over David (perfectly timed when the room was full of visitors, including Kiara). Awesome.

By the end of the day I was able to hold down crackers and juice. David tried to get some sleep, but with nurses in and out all night and baby-boy nursing most of the night, I was recovering but pretty tired.

Day 2: The next morning a nurse removed the catheter and shortly thereafter I got out of bed for the first time post-op. After my first c-section, when I first stood up, I was caught off guard by the rush of blood. I didn't know anything about lochia shedding. This go around there was no rush of blood like I'd experience before and in general, my bleeding was considerable lighter.

Next I made my way and to the bathroom to start getting all of the water off that they pumped in me for the surgery. The bathroom was stocked with lovely mesh undies, pads, and chucks for me to where to soak up all the blood. I definitely needed all of it last time, but this time, not as much.

That morning the doctor removed the dressing from my incision and inspected the wound. For my first c-section, they'd used staples and this time they used surgical tape. She said things looked good.

For the rest of the day, I continued to nurse and get that skin-to-skin contact with Baby-boy. My appetite returned and by the end of the day, I was ready to find out what needed to happen to get out of there and head home.

That evening I switched to oral pain relief, ibuprofen to start, and then NorCo which helped me get  some sleep that night.

Days 3: I wanted to get home on that third day and a handy chart on the wall let me know what needed to happen. These steps included things like lactation consult, hearing test, baby physical, and discharge orders. We took care of the paperwork for the baby and I continued on the ibuprofen and Norco for pain management. That morning David and I walked with baby through the hall.

After a long discharge conversation with a nurse who gave us way more information than we needed about SIDS and baby care in general, we managed to get all of our items checked off. David picked up my prescriptions and transportation wheeled me to the car. My orders: take it easy, take pain meds as needed, don't lift anything heavier than ten pounds, and take care of that baby (which really means keep nursing so he gains weight). With that, I gingerly climbed into our truck and winced over every bump as we made our way home.


Gabe's Birth Story

Game time!
Kiara's birth story took me three posts.

Gabe's story, much like his birth, was much shorter and easier.

After a night of contractions that kept me up that night and started coming stronger and closer, we dropped off Kiara at daycare and made our way to the hospital for our scheduled c-section.

We arrived a little before eight in the morning on the Monday after Superbowl Sunday so everyone was talking about the game, about Seattle's questionable goal-line play-call, and Missy Elliot stealing the halftime show. As the first patient of the week, the staff was ready to go. The nurses completed my intake survey and the anesthesiologists talked with me about the flaws in pain management from my last c-section.

Hello there, Baby Gabe!
By 9:00, I was walking casually toward the operating room, so different from the emergency c-section last time. I sat on the table, and tried to relax for the spinal anesthetic. As the doctors and nurses busily prepared, the anesthesiologist talked with me about breathing and her favorite HGTV shows. As voices floated around me I realized all my nurses and doctors were women, and although nearly everything felt different this time around, my all-female team put me the most at ease. The spinal went in flawlessly and I relaxed onto the table and into the hands of my providers.

Once I was prepped a nurse brought David into the room. I think we joked about the game like the morning sports-radio hosts had on our drive to the hospital: about it being "The best Superbowl game ever!" and that we'd be "Talking about this game for the rest of our lives."

They started the procedure and the biggest difference between this and my first c-section was this time there was no pain. There was a little discomfort, and a little stress on my part, but at 9:38 the
doctor lifted my baby up over the curtain. He was here. He cried and I smiled. The anesthesiologist ordered David to take pictures, which he did, and a few short moments later, they brought little Gabe over to meet me. I gazed at his perfect little face, so thankful that this c-section had gone so well, and increasingly disturbed by how terrible the first had been.

They finished up and then David, baby and I made our way into recovery where we snuggled, and nursed, and introduced Baby-Gabe to my sister and dad. David sent out word to the world, at 9:38 on February 2, the same birthday as my cousin Traci's, we welcomed Gabe Ichiro Nakada-Gantt into the world, all seven pounds, ten ounces of bouncing baby boy!

A Letter to Our First Born...

February 1, 2015

Dearest Kiara,
I am cherishing these last days with you, not because I won’t be with you any longer, but I know in ways you are likely to never remember: that you are our first, our favorite, our beloved only daughter.

Hopefully, you will feel that forever, just how special you are, how much love and laughter you have brought into our lives, so before the new baby joins us and completes our little family, I want you to know how precious these first years of motherhood have been with you.

You entered our world and have stayed so incredibly agreeable. Even though my expectations for how you would join us were unmet, you didn’t seem to mind being cut and pulled from my womb. You cried a little, the air a shock to your little lungs, your mother shivering on the table as your father held you, not knowing how to comfort either of his two women.

I looked for you, couldn’t wait to hold you, as they bathed you and struggled to take my blood pressure for what felt like forever when all I wanted was to feel you against my skin. And when they finally placed you in my arms, I couldn’t believe the love I felt immediately for this little girl. For my Kiara.

And in those early hours, when I didn’t wake you to feed you, when I slept and hoped I was doing it right, when, really, you needed to eat, and I wasn’t doing it right, you ate when I did bring you to the breast and you slept and responded to our shushes and swaddles.

And then I fed you, in a marathon of milk, when they told us you weren’t gaining weight, that I wasn’t doing it right, that it wasn’t about the milk production, it was just that I needed to wake you up and feed you every couple of hours. Even then you went along and you gained the weight and you and I, mother and daughter, fell into that unique space reserved for new mothers and their babies.

There was the exhaustion, the dawn feedings, the afternoon sessions, the evenings, when the day was nearly done and you figured out days and nights and started sleeping for longer stretches.

We traveled up to Oregon that summer to introduce you to my family, and to Bend, where I grew up. You traveled well and won the hearts of all of your cousins, your aunties and uncles, your grandparents.

You adjusted beautifully to daycare, where you made your first friends and we learned how to trust professionals who knew better than we did, who had done this so many times before.

And then, just as you were crawling, I tore my Achilles. And then the dog bit your ear forcing us to the decision we should have made long before: to re-home our dog and simplify our lives.

You turned one. You thrived. You started to walk and talk and you haven’t stopped since. You jump and hop and run. Your babbles have become words, phrases, and tall tales. I have loved hearing about what is going on in that head of yours.

You have been excited about the little brother about to enter the world. You gently tap my belly to say hello, apply little kisses, and imagine baby brother wants to dance and sing and play with you. You have already decided that your Super Sister t-shirt is your favorite and anxiously await Baby Gabe's arrival just like we do.

But in these last days that you are our precious only child, I will breathe in your energy and enthusiasm and hold on to my absolute and boundless love for you, my favorite little girl in the world.


The End of Our Fertility Journey

The crazy thing about fertility/infertility, is that when you're dealing with it, it is both all-consuming and invisible. It colors everything, but it's translucent. It is everywhere and nowhere.

When David and I first started trying to start a family, I over-shared letting this blog (which had only a handful of readers) know. It's been an eight-year journey and now that it's come to a conclusion, I can look back without being in it, but it's impossible to capture the intensity of being in it. There was the worry that we would never have kids like we envisioned, that I was sterile, that he was sterile, that we waited too long in life, or waited too long in this cycle, that we were being selfish wanting kids of our own with so many kids in the world needing loving homes. There were just so many long-term doubts and worries. But then there was the hope, "Maybe we're pregnant this time!" tempered with "Don't get your hopes up" and "Things happen when they are supposed to" and "We can adopt or foster."

I wrote about the journey from inside and now that I'm on the outside, I can't quite capture the chaotic confusion that is trying-to-get-pregnant. I think my links to previous blogs capture some of it, and I'm exploring the journey more in my work in progress, Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop, so there is more to come. But for now, this is my journey, reflected on from the other side but with links to posts from when I was in it.

David and I had been married six years when we decide we're ready to start our family and stop using birth control.

A year later we still aren't pregnant, and although we wonder if parenthood is for us, we look for help. I start the process with my healthcare
provider, but about halfway through their protocol (blood work, exams) the reality of the expense makes us decide to change health plans. That change means treatment will be more affordable, but it also means another round of blood work, exams, and this time a dye test that leaves me ill for days.

That summer, we finally start our first cycle with fertility meds and artificial insemination. Even though my body doesn't really respond to the meds, we get lucky and are pregnant with our daughter Kiara.

We always imagined a family of four, so David and I decide to try again. We head back to the same doctor hoping to get the same results. Healthcare coverage changes make it more expensive, but we get to avoid all of the blood work, exams, and the dye test. On the first round, I respond well to the meds and there are several eggs ready for insemination. But while I'm on vacation in Oregon, I start my period. There's still time that summer for one more cycle, but that round doesn't take either. With our pockets considerably lighter, we wonder if baby number two will ever happen.

We decide not to try fertility treatments again, but hope to get lucky and in the summer of 2014, I'm late. I tracked my cycle and felt like we might have timed things right. I'm up in Portland and there is a positive test. As the pregnancy progresses, we know this baby is it for us. We discuss permanent birth control options and decide to get my tubes tied during my scheduled c-section. I come to the slow realization that our fertility journey is over. It was not short or easy, but it was uniquely ours. I'm so glad it's over. So, for anyone who is still on this ride, I wish you only the best. It is a complicated, expensive, and emotional journey, but it is yours alone and someday you too will be on the other side.


Remembering To Kill A Mockingbird

While I was away at the end of last school year, the teachers in the English department decided to give the Engage NY Common Core curriculum a shot this year. It would not have been my first choice, but I'm a team player so I've been giving the lessons a shot.

The fall unit centered around a great novel in verse: Inside Out & Back Again, about a Vietnamese refugee girl and her family fleeing Saigon and finding home in Alabama.

This spring the novel is To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my all-time favorites. I love this book and movie so much I refused to let my high school English teacher kill it for me. Now, having to teach the novel for the first time, I'm remembering all that I love about the book. We are reading and watching the movie as we go, and more than once I've teared up watching Scout sit on Atticus's lap as she learns the lessons of life.

In the spirit of the book, here is an excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine about the summer when I first met Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Calpurnia, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson.

Movie Night

It's late, way past our bedtime, but we rented a VCR and the Butlers are over so Mom lets us stay up. Mom picked out some old movie for us to watch.
            "Are there kids in it?" I ask.
            "The little girl tells the whole story, Nori." Mom says. "You'll like it."
            I take the stairs two at a time to the family room but still don't believe the movie will be any good. It's in black and white.
            The family room is still warm from the hot summer day. The door to the deck is open and a chorus of crickets filters in from the night. The grown-ups just finished watching a movie about some lawyer. Mr. Butler's a lawyer too with an office downtown by St. Francis. When he gives us a ride to school in the mornings, he gives us a word and we're supposed to look it up in the dictionary and tell him what it means the next day. One day I look up culpable which means deserving punishment.
            I lay on the floor as Mom turns the lights out and presses play. The tape clicks and the music starts. There is a box with crayons and a pocketknife. A marble rolls; an old watch ticks. A girl draws a bird and laughs. The people in the room fade away and my world becomes black and white. A little girl named Scout counts and swings from a tire tied to a tree branch. I follow her adventures until I can feel the thin denim of her overalls and the summer heat on her back. I imagine what Scout thinks as she sits on Atticus's lap on the porch and he tells her you never really know a man until you walk a day in his shoes. I wonder if Jem, Scout, and Dill will ever get Boo Radley to come out and if Atticus will help Tom Robinson. In the end, Atticus doesn't win, Boo Radley comes out, and I think I know why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

            The next day I pull on an old faded t-shirt and shorts fraying at the edges but I wish they were Scout's overalls. I climb up the crooked rungs on the willow tree and sit in our tree house. I look across the backyard at our neighborhood and wonder who in this town might be the Ewells or the Robinsons. I try to figure out how to get everyone to start calling me Scout but the name doesn't stick. No one calls me Scout, and the summer turns to fall.

           School starts, fourth grade, and at our first recess I notice an old house on the border of the playground. I peer into its dirty windows, past the dusty green jars cluttering the sills. It's dark inside and I imagine Boo Radley in there, plotting to murder his family. I tell my classmates about it and they say I'm crazy. I think about beating them up. That's what Scout would've done, but Atticus wouldn't have liked that. Then I see Matt Rose looking in the window of the Boo Radley house and I know he's wondering.

         Winter brings snow and during a close game of kickball, Richard Eigeren sends the ball flying over the fence into the Boo Radley yard.

            "Go get it, Richard," Matt Rose yells.
            "No way, that place is haunted."
            "Oh, don't listen to Nori. She just made that up from some old movie she saw."
            I look at my classmates and back to the dark house across the fence. "I'll go get it, you big babies."
            I sprint out the playground gate and up the sidewalk. The red rubber ball is far into the yard, resting on a pile of dirty snow. I look at the ball and remember the time Jem pushed Scout in the tire and she landed right on the Radley porch. I take a deep breath and push open the gate. One, two, three, four, five, six, I count my steps and heartbeats like Scout did when she was waiting for Jem to get his overalls from the Radley yard. I snatch the ball and huck it over the fence where the boys dodge it, not wanting to touch the rubber contaminated by the haunted yard. A dog barks and I nearly slip on the icy walk as I slam the gate and sprint back to the safety of the schoolyard, far from Maycomb, Scout and Boo Radley.


My Top Books in 2014

So after my year of reading, here are my favorites:  three fiction, five nonfiction, two children's and my one overall top pick.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The conversations about race and the inclusions of blogs reveal a view of America from a newcomer's perspective. Then, her modern Nigeria feels so distant from the one I read about in Half of a Yellow Sun. Adichie captures the feeling of belonging and not belonging both immigrants and Americans of color experience. 
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai This novel in verse is a beautiful refugee story of escape, family, and locating home. Lai captures a wonderful young female protagonist with all her flaws and keen insights. 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  Love Lockhart's lyrical phrasing and how the culture of silences veil the truth. She had me turning the pages and this island story has stayed with me long after reading. 


The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward These stories of young men in Mississippi who find death too young felt particularly timely. Ward’s ability to capture place and character leave me in awe. She does fiction and nonfiction equally well.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: I devoured Strayed journey and it actually made me want to hike and camp (and I hate camping). Strong CNF storytelling and I will have to revisit it since losing my mom. 

Marbles by Ellen Forney The connections between creativity, artistry, and mood disorders hit home with me as did the graphic novel-ness of it which captures in visuals a complex and inexplicable experience.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson This biography in verse follows Woodson’s early childhood from Ohio, to South Carolina, ending up in Brooklyn. She holds herself up in comparison to her siblings and slowly reveals her gift as a storytelling and writer. 

Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz In the same vein as Lolita, Ortiz explores how her middle school world shifts when her English teacher initiates a relationship with her. With occasional notes on her “excavation” as an adult, we get a break from the intense world of a teenager struggling to make sense of a life where the adults let her down.  

Children's Books:

Almost An Animal Alphabet by Katie Veggers This is my favorite of the many alphabet books Kiara has in her collection. The animals are unique and the drawings are smart and teach me things (like the differences between the Asian and African elephants). 

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski This beautifully rendered book about a little girl who just isn’t tired and doesn’t want to go to sleep is perfect for Kiara as she transitions to her big girl bed. 

Top Overall Pick:

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki I love how this novel alternates povs and how each narrative masterfully unfolds the journeys of the two characters. Ozeki works in all kinds of science and philosophy and this book actually makes me want to meditate and study Japanese again.