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Poet Tracy K. Smith Visits Castilleja Next Week!

Poet Tracy K. Smith Visits Castilleja Next Week!

Poet Tracy K. Smith, in addition to being one of the most awarded poets of her generation, is a poet who explores race, family, faith, and the strange idiosyncrasies of our existence through a deeply personal lens. Her hypnotic, surprising, even absurd, work offers elegant socio political commentary in vivid verse. She has explored her challenging ideas and poignant stories in three collections of poetry and her memoir. Her work has met much critical acclaim, with Publisher’s Weekly’s starred review noting her “lyric brilliance and political impulses.” She is currently the director of Princeton University’s Creative Writing program.

She obtained her BA from Harvard University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, and held the Wallace Stegner fellowship at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. Her first collection of poetry, The Body’s Question (2003), explores the intersection of race and family, and addresses the difficulties of confronting loss. It won the Cave Canem prize for the best debut work by an African American writer. Her second, Duende (2007), explores the history of often ignored cultures, as well as sharing stories of personal survival and political change. In 2006, it won the American Academy of Poets’ James Laughlin award. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (2011), is a powerful elegy for her father, a scientist who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, that won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012. It explores both the boundaries of space and civilization, as well as the beautiful reality of the mundane. Just as Life on Mars paid homage to her father, her memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), is for her mother. Detailing her experiences from childhood, to her coming of age, till the present day, Ms. Smith dissects the same critical issues addressed in her earlier poetry through a deeply personal lense. Ordinary Light was a finalist for the National Book Award. For her compelling body of work, she received the 2014 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, as well as numerous other awards, fellowships, and grants including a Rona Jaffe Award and a Whiting Award.

As this year’s Arrillaga speaker, she will be speaking at an all school assembly on October 6, after which there will be a reception for faculty and parents. On October 7, students are invited to attend a roundtable discussion with her. Ms. Smith will also be visiting English classes over these two days. Look forward to hearing from this evocative poet and author, and come to the Library to read her mesmerizing work!

–Arushi G. ’18


Header picture: tksmith5_cMarlene Lillian: Poet Tracy K. Smith by Tulane Public Relations/Marlene Lillian licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Illustrator Christian Robinson Visits Castilleja!

Illustrator Christian Robinson Visits Castilleja!

DSC_6991Christian Robinson, illustrator of the Newbery Award winning Last Stop on Market Street, visited Castilleja today. He worked with Upper School Drawing and Painting, visited with sixth graders, and helped the entire eighth grade design collage illustrations of characters from their lit circle books.


Your intrepid librarians were on the spot, distributing paper and taking many, many pictures of the designing fun.

If you had a good time or if you want to check out more of DSC_6992Mr. Robinson’s art, we have a collection of his books in the library, and you can check out his website at The Art of Fun.

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Gene Yang Visits Castilleja!

Gene Yang Visits Castilleja!

Gene Yang










Last Wednesday, Gene Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, visited the seventh grade to talk about his new book. Linnea L. ’21 wrote a recap for us.

Gene Yang is a graphic novel writer and a coder, and though he loves both of those things he had never before been able to connect them in an organic way. He has finally been able to, by writing a book called Secret Coders. This book is a story about three kids who learn to code, and as you follow along their journey, it teaches YOU the basics of coding, too! Gene Yang introduced us to binary, the base method of coding that all programs are created from, and also showed us a programming language called Logo.

We didn’t just learn about coding, though—we also got a chance to ask him about American Born Chinese, which we had just finished reading in English class. Our class had a lot of questions about the themes in the book, because he does a wonderful job of including symbolism in the story. It makes the reader question what is real and what is a representation of something else deeper. We got to delve deeper into the meaning of the book, and make up some of our own stories, too, to wrap everything up.

I’ve read a few other of this author’s books, and they all addressed one of the many issues that lots of people struggle with in our daily lives. My personal favorite, Level Up, made me think about what happiness really is, and about how much parents should control about their children’s’ lives. It was a wonderful experience to have Gene Yang at our school, and I hope he comes again!

By Linnea L. ’21

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Author Skype With A.S. King for Banned Books Week

Author Skype With A.S. King for Banned Books Week

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Last week, A.S. King came to Castilleja through a Skype call! For those who are not familiar with the name, A.S. King is a Young Adult Fiction author, who has written many high-quality books, including Everybody Sees the Ants, Reality Boy, Dust of 100 Dogs, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and Ask the Passengers. Unlike many authors, A.S. King does not plan out her books but instead starts off with a character, then builds the story from there. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, her second novel, revolves around Vera Dietz, who sees more than she says. When she is the only one who actually knows how her best friend Charlie dies, she doesn’t know whether she has the courage or desire to clear his name. This novel won the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, as well as an Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee for “Best Young Adult”.

During the Skype interview, students learned about the dangers of censorship as well as freedom of speech. The 8th graders gained interesting insight from A.S. King’s responses and opinions.  Many people admired how she was able to speak the truth without hesitation and regret, and the 8th grade sent letters to thank Ms. King for taking the time to speak with them.

Although each student had their own, unique impression of A.S. King’s powerful words, the entire grade was inspired to contemplate censorship, freedom of thought, knowledge, and the reigning controversy as to how to balance all three.

By Minhee C., ’20

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Reflections on Denis Belliveau’s In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

Reflections on Denis Belliveau’s In the Footsteps of Marco Polo





After last week’s author visit and presentation from Denis Belliveau, sophomore Sara Z. kindly wrote us a piece on her thoughts…


In our history classes, we are often told that we need to cultivate historical and cultural empathy in order to be informed citizens of the world, and I can think of no better way to do so than by observing. Observation is the act of learning without interfering. Most people think this means stepping back to get a broader view of  the situation, and while that often works, the best way to observe is to integrate yourself so fully into your surroundings that your presence and your actions won’t affect what you’re observing. This kind of observation is not something we get to do very often, but it is by far the best way to understand a different perspective. Our guest speaker, Mr. Denis Belliveau, had the opportunity to do that sort of immersion for two years while following the footsteps of Marco Polo.

And what did he learn from all this observation? Did he find anything in common amongst the different cultures? Surely, warlords in Afghanistan don’t have anything in common with monks in Mongolia. We assume this because of the information we have already acquired. We have learned about Buddhist beliefs and rituals in history class, and they sound nothing at all like the ideologies of the gun-wielding Afghans. Sure, they have the same biological makeup, but their historical differences created two completely different cultures that foster two completely different mindsets. Beyond the fact that both groups are Homo sapiens, they can’t have anything in common. Or do they? When asked during the assembly, Mr. Belliveau said that throughout all his travels across Europe and Asia there was one common thread shared by everyone he met. And that thread was kindness and hospitality towards all humans, a sense of kinship with a stranger.

When Mr. Belliveau met with an Afghani warlord to try to obtain safe passage through war-torn Afghanistan, he didn’t know if  he would be killed on the spot by any one of the countless rifles propped against the walls. When the travelers handed the warlord a letter they had received from an acquaintance, the man replied, “The man who wrote this  is my brother. I will do anything in my power to help you.” To this man, it didn’t matter that the travelers were from America. It didn’t matter what their political ideologies were. All that mattered was that someone he respected had asked him to help these people. They had come to Afghanistan to observe, not to interfere. They came simply as human beings. And for that reason, they were treated kindly.

I think that an essential part of nurturing our historical and cultural empathy is understanding that the people we talk about are all human. Sometimes this sense of humanity gets tucked away in our minds because of more pressing issues that draw our attention to the differences between us. When we target terrorist groups, we can’t worry about the fact that those terrorists are people, too, with lives and families. It’s far more important to take actions in the interest of our safety and for the safety and liberty of other countries.

But most situations are less extreme than that. If we are ever to going to create a world in which everyone understands and respects each other, we need to remember that the people we may disagree with are humans, too. When we establish that in our minds, we can begin to see how their emotions, loyalties, and beliefs may factor into their decisions, culture, and ideologies. When we can remember that they are human, we can remember that they have needs and feelings and a heart. With that in mind, we can truly begin to observe in a less biased and self-righteous way. Unbiased observation can only lead to understanding and empathy. And with understanding, we can find ways to engage that are in everyone’s best interest. All we need is our humanity and an ability to step back, watch, and reflect.

By Sara Z. ’18


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Upcoming Bay Area Literary Events

Upcoming Bay Area Literary Events

Spring has sprung, and that means new book babies to adopt and love! See some of your favorite authors up close and get to know some debut ones, too.

challengerApril 14, 7:30pm, @ Kepler’s
Are you one of the many students who read Francisco Jiménez’s fascinating memoir The Circuit? He has more stories to tell. He will visit the bookstore to present his fourth memoir, Taking Hold. Learn what happened as he left California to go to college.

April 20, 5pm, @ Kepler’s
We know you love the Unwind series. Its author, Neal Shusterman, is back with a new book called Challenger Deep, illustrated by his own son. This is not to be missed!

April 20, 7pm, @ Books Inc – Palo Alto
Anybody who loves music and realistic fiction will want to check out author Leila Sales, who will present her latest book, This Song Will Save Your Life, and celebrate its paperback release.

April 21, 7:30pm, @ Kepler’s
Shame on you! Shame on you? Author Jennifer Jacquet will talk about the concept of shaming and guilt and present her new book on the subject, titled Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool.

April 21, 7pm, through A Great Good Place for Books
Superstar YA authors Gayle Forman (If I Stay) and Jay Asher (13 Reasons Why) will host an important awareness event and fund-raiser on suicide and mental illness.

blackreckoningApril 21, 7:30pm, @ Booksmith
Passionate about banned books and censorship? Come to this event, featuring Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket, Mariko Tamaki, and more.

April 24, 6:30pm, @ Book Passage – Corte Madera
John Stephens, author of the popular series starting with The Emerald Atlas, is releasing the final book in the series! It’s called The Black Reckoning. Come celebrate the finale with the author at this event.

April 28, 7pm, @ Kepler’s
Alternate history meets futuristic dystopia in Sabaa Tahir’s new book, An Ember in the Ashes. If you like adventure, strong female heroines, and secrecy, you’ll have to try this book. Meet the author at the bookstore!

Amber Tamblyn

April 28, 7pm, @ City Lights
You know Amber Tamblyn from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but did you know she’s also a poet? Her new book of poems explores the lives – tragic, inspiring, and creative – of 25 well-known actresses, like Marilyn Monroe and Brittany Murphy.

April 29, 7pm, @ A Great Good Place for Books
A whole panel of YA authors will appear to get you excited about their latest books! Susane Colasanti has a new romance trilogy, beginning with City Love. Maria Dahvana Headley’s debut novel is called Magonia. And Katie Cotugno presents a romantic novel called 99 Days. Do you love love stories? Then be here.

May 2, all day, everywhere
It’s California Bookstore Day! Visit your favorite independent bookstore and support local business by buying a new book for yourself or a friend.

May 9, 11am, @ Book Passage – Corte Madera
Women’s history has never been this rad. Meet authors Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, whose new book, Rad American Women A-Z, is a colorful, vibrant collection of inspiring ladies’ lives.

May 9, 4pm, @ Books Inc – Opera Plaza
This amazing YA event has more than 15 authors on the docket. Meet them, learn about their books, get your own books signed, take selfies…it’ll be a blast!

Sophia Rossi and Zooey Deschanel

May 14, 7pm, @ Books Inc – Opera Plaza
Romance stories abound at this event – which will also include cupcakes and a raffle! Meet Sandy Hall (A Little Something Different), Katie Van Ark (The Boy Next Door), Temple West (Velvet), and Kimberly Karalius (Love, Fortune and Other Disasters).

May 18, 7pm, @ A Great Good Place for Books
If your eyes light up when you hear someone talk about HelloGiggles, you’ll want to read A Tale of Two Besties, written by HelloGiggles co-founder (and Zooey Deschanel bestie) Sophia Rossi.

May 22, 6pm, @ Book Passage – Corte Madera
Did you know bestselling author Jodi Picoult also writes YA? Her co-writer, Samantha Van Leer, is her daughter! Their newest book is called Off the Page, and they’ll appear at the bookstore to tell you more about it. (This is a ticketed event starting at $25.)

June 2, 7pm, @ Books Inc – The Castro
Local author Michelle Tea will celebrate the release of Girl at the Bottom of the Sea. It is the sequel to The Mermaid in Chelsea Creek.

June 4, 7pm, @ Kepler’s
Described as Graceling meets A Game of Thrones, The Witch Hunter is the debut novel from a local author. Come to this event to meet Virginia Boecker!

June 5, 6pm, @ The Reading Bug
If you love historical fiction, you’ve probably heard of Jennifer L. Holm. Or maybe if your favorite comic book series is Babymouse, you’ve heard of her. Either way, she’ll be appearing to tell you all about her upcoming projects, give you behind the scenes info on her characters, and more!

June 6, 11am, @ Book Passage – San Francisco
If you love literary-inspired adventures like Story Thieves or A Tale Dark and Grimm, you’ll want to know debut author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and her new novel, Book Scavenger.

June 13, 7:30pm, @ Mrs. Dalloway’s
Attend the launch party for Delicate Monsters, the newest book by Stephanie Kuehn! This Bay Area writer is also the author of Charm & Strange and Complicit.

June 18, 7:30pm, @ Booksmith
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series recently came to a close, and with the paperback release of the final novel, Grossman will appear to talk about the whole series and maybe even give you a sneak peek into the TV series, premiering on SyFy in 2016!

July 1, 7pm, @ A Great Good Place for Books
The Anne of Green Gables of this generation may just be Ana of California, the debut novel from Andi Teran. Ana leaves southern California for northern in search of a better life.

Have you gone to one of these events? Tell us about it!

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