The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. – Book Letter 5

Dear Friends,

Reading Gianna while waiting for the car to be fixed.
Photo by Katie.

I read the book The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner. Gianna is a delightful character—she’s an artist, a runner, and a bit disorganized. Sometimes she has a hard time focusing on things she has to do for school, like the all-consuming leaf collection project for science. However, she is always busy with important and “genius” work—like splatter painting her room and painting other pictures inspired by the masters. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, as does her beloved Nonna, her mother’s mother, who lives with them.

I love the way the author helped us get to know Gianna, Zig, Ian, Mr. and Mrs. Zales, Nonna, Ruby, and even the evil principal, Mr. Randolph, and Gianna’s arch rival, Bianca. The characters just live normal lives for a few weeks during one autumn in Vermont, but they come alive on the pages.

I learned an important lesson about writing from reading this book. I don’t have to write wild, fantastic tales about future dystopias to write a good story. The last three times I’ve done NaNoWriMo, that’s what I attempted (the crazy sci-fi stuff ). This book didn’t need an outrageous plot line because characters were so well-developed. I couldn’t stop reading The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. because I cared about the people, particularly Gianna and her grandmother, Nonna. I wanted to see what happened next in their relationships, which were never hokey.

I think there is a second reason I learned about writing from this book. Last summer, I participated in the Teachers Write Summer Writing Camp. Kate Messner and a host of other published authors guided us through writing exercises. I felt like I got to know Kate over the summer as I participated in the activities and read her inspiring comments on my and other teachers’ work. Now when I read her books, I’m reminded of the summer writing camp, and I can hear her teaching me about writing through her stories.

Here is one of the passages that made me cry when I read it. Because her father was called away for an emergency, Gianna finds herself at the doctor’s office with her Nonna, who is being tested for Alzheimer’s disease.

“How long have you had a living will?”

Nonna takes a deep breath. “Your mother helped me get it together a few months ago.”

Now I can’t stop the tears. “Mom knows too? And it was months ago? How come nobody told me?”

“Because you should be creating your art and running through the mud and catching leaves,“ she says.

“Well, I’m not, am I? I’m here in this stupid office listening to him ask you stupid questions, and my leaf project isn’t done, and Mom is off at some meeting with a bunch of ladies while we talk about what happens when you…” I can’t say the word. I can’t. I start sobbing just thinking about what it will be like to lose Nonna.

“I’m not going anywhere just yet.” She gets off the examination table and bends down to hug me. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to go through this with me today.” She holds me for a long time.

I would recommend to any young reader this sweet book about Gianna.

Mrs. Krebs



Dear Friends,
I couldn’t put this book down! I read it all Sunday, at lunch recess today, and finished it before supper. The book I couldn’t put down was Mockingbird (mok’ing-bûrd) by Kathryn Erskine.

In some ways it reminds me of Wonder by R. J. Palacio and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. I loved those two books, but this one may be my favorite of the three. These books all help us empathize with children who are different in some way than the majority of their peers.

A father and daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome are learning to have closure after a debilitating tragedy has hit their community, and especially their family. A shooting took place at the Virginia Dare Middle School, and in this passage, there is a dialogue between the father and his daughter about upcoming middle school.

“Are you okay with going to…that school?”

“Virginia Dare?”

He sucks in his breath when I say it.

“Devon’s school?”

He closes his eyes.

I shrug. “I guess. They don’t have recess in middle school and I don’t like recess.”

Dad opens his eyes but he still stares at the air. “If I could afford to pay for a private school for you I would.”

People talk about private schools but I don’t know exactly what they are. So I ask. “Does private mean I’m the only one in the school? Because I’d like that at lot.”

“No. Of course not.”

“So it’s just like a regular school?”

“Pretty much.”

I shake my head. “Then I don’t want private. I’m fine with the regular one.”

He nods and lets out a big breath. “Okay.”

From Chapter 23

I picked that passage to share because it shows the humor Kathryn Erskine is able to add into an otherwise terrible situation. The protagonist, Caitlyn, is working so hard to learn her manners, get along with people, make friends, plus find closure for the loss of her beloved brother. She ends up helping others find closure around the tragic event as well. (If you read it, you won’t see the quotation marks like I used in the passage above. The author doesn’t use quotation marks; instead she uses italics when characters are speaking. It takes some paying attention to know who is and when people are talking.)

This book is a 10, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys realistic fiction with a satisfactory ending to a sad situation.


Mrs. Krebs

an ad in I-D magazine=bram cohen really does have this thing (asperger's)

Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulsen

October 22, 2012

Dear Students and Friends,

I read the book Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulsen, a historical fiction about cowboys and Indians. Anna had read this book, really liked it, and recommended it to me. I was glad she did. I have read several books by Gary Paulsen. He has written a large variety of genres. This one was different than anything else I had read by him.

Mr. Tucket, a 14-year-old boy, is named Francis Alphonse Tucket. He was lost from his wagon train, which was traveling from Missouri to Oregon, when Braid, a Pawnee Indian kidnapped him. The book shows his adventurous and dangerous experiences spending time with Indians, an owner of a trading post, and a mentor mountain man named Mr. Grimes, who gave him his nickname “Mr. Tucket.” In each chapter there is a new and exciting bit of action.

In the saddest part of the book for me, Mr. Tucket and Mr. Grimes approach the trading post owned by Spot Johnnie. They noticed smoke, but not just the smoke of a winter fire for heat and cooking. The whole place was burning. Here is a passage:

There were bodies of Pawnee Indians everywhere. They lay as they had fallen, some running, some stretched out as though sleeping.

“I count twenty-three,” Mr. Grimes said. His voice was hollow. “Old Spot put up one whale of a fight.”

They dismounted and searched the ground around the post, but could not find the bodies of Spot or his family.

This is a coming-of-age story, as the book progresses, Mr. Tucket goes from being an inexperienced and protected boy to a man, able to fend for and protect himself and others.
I wish I knew if Mr. Tucket makes it to Oregon to reunite with his scared family. We didn’t get to know much about what his family went through when he was lost. Since there are four more books in the series, I guess I will learn more by reading them. I look forward to reading more of this series. I think Mason would like these books too.


Mrs. Krebs