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


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