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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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Boovish Dictionary

Boovish Dictionary


In honor of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday and the release of the movie adaptation, Home, Castilleja students compiled a helpful translation guide from Boovish to English (the language of the Boov). Take a look to see what your name means in Boovish! Don’t see yours here? Tell us what it means in the comments below.

  • Aly; pumpernickle
  • Anaïs; moist
  • Ananya; indecisive
  • Anika; slimy
  • Anna; variegated or thief
  • Bridget; epic
  • Brooke; river
  • Catherine; to smile
  • Charlotte; moist
  • Christy; anime fan
  • Dani; awesome
  • Elisabeth; dinglehopper
  • Ella; shiny
  • Ellie; cheese
  • Emmeline; wing
  • Georgia; carrot
  • Grace; to jump
  • Honor; noodles
  • Izzy; sarcastic
  • Jas; life
  • Jenna; movies
  • Julia; fabulous
  • Kaavya; broccoli
  • Kate; root beer
  • Karly; spiky
  • Kayla; bae
  • Kelly; twinkie
  • Kiana; round
  • Kristen; eccentric
  • Laura-Ann; ice cream
  • Lauren; peach or mac and cheese
  • Leila; crocodile
  • Lila; to run
  • Linnea; danger! get out of here!
  • Lishan; buttons
  • Mabelle; bunny
  • Marisol; cat
  • Maya; fishy
  • Megan; boots
  • Mili; human
  • Minhee; humanscar
  • Molly; heart
  • Naira; the most amazingly awesome person in the universe
  • Roxy; fabulously perfect
  • Sam; cat or awesome
  • Samina; potato
  • Sara; the feeling of not being able to remember a word
  • Sarah; nothing or vivacious
  • Sophie; to smile
  • Tevah; colorful
  • Winter; summer
  • Zoe; upside down

Now, you can make whole sentences using Boovish. The following Boovish was overheard in the library:
“I grace for joy when you wear your tevah megans with lishans!”
Translation: “I jump for joy when you wear your colorful boots with buttons!”

Linnea! That kaavya is too charlotte and anika!”
Translation: “Danger, get out of here! That broccoli is too moist and slimy!”

*Image: Left: drawing of J.Lo from The True Meaning of Smekday by its author, Adam Rex. Right: reimagined as Oh in the movie Home.

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6th Grade Electives Make Book Trailers

film-145099_640For the final Middle School elective rotation, Mr. Mead’s Stop Motion class and Ms. Gómez’s Books and Movies class joined forces to create video book trailers in stop motion format! Check out some of the videos below.

by Lexi T. ’21, Kaavya P. ’21, Megan F. ’21
The 8th Day by Dianne K. Salerni

Tobey S. ’21, Mariel G. ’21, Sophia
Legend by Marie Lu

Lauren S. ’20, Frannie D. ’19, and Julia K. ’20
The Selection by Kiera Cass

Atmika S. ’19, Emi S. ’19, Sophia L. ’20
The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan

Coco L. ’21 and Lauren T. ’19
Cress by Marissa Meyer

by Izzy R. ’21 and Kelly Y. ’21
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

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Delving Into American History

Delving Into American History

I love American history. I have enjoyed each of the US History classes I have taken at Castilleja but I have often wished that I could spend more time exploring a specific person or period in history.

One example is Eleanor Roosevelt. I was amazed by her confidence, strength, and ideas. In my history class, we talked about how she wrote newspaper columns, spoke up for the causes that she cared about, and as a result changed what it means to be the First Lady. I wanted to understand more about the causes that she cared about and her life. I went on a hunt for a good book about Eleanor Roosevelt at the Castilleja library. I quickly came across a book that compiled all of her column pieces, speeches, and essays. As I was looking at this book in the back corners of the library, I realized that there were so many other books written about different historical events that I was interested in. I thought that as we start preparing for the US History AP Exam that it would be fun to compile a list of books exploring the foundation of our country to the modern era. If you get bored of making flashcards or reading the textbook, come to the library and check out one of these books. They are for sure going to help prepare you for the exam! :)

17761776 by David McCullough focuses on the beginning of the American Revolution through the perspective of “men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldier” on both the American and British side (1776). This book focuses on the military aspect of the war instead of the political. This is a great book to understand the birth of our country. As the New York Times stated, the book “is a lucid and lively work that will engage both Revolutionary War bores and general readers who have avoided the subject since their school days.” Check this book out to understand the people who made up this war!



americancenturyHarold Evans, the author of The American Century, wanted to write a book that was “an accessible popular political history,” and that is exactly what he did with his book. American Century focuses on the last 100 years of American history. It is 736 pages of pictures, posters from the period, and articles explaining everything that has occurred in the United States in the last 100 years. This is a great book to flip through and find information you might not be able to find in Brinkley. It also has amazing photos of events such as the building of the Panama Canal, Native Americans, and life in America for the last 100 years that you cannot find in Brinkley. This is a great book to randomly flip to a page to find information you fun facts about our country! Who knew William Howard Taft’s wife organized the plantation of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees in Washington DC?! Here is a New York Times review with more information:

courageWere you excited to hear about how Eleanor Roosevelt changed the meaning of the first wife? Do you want to learn more about the woman who challenged society norms during her time? Well here is the book for you! Courage in A Dangerous World: The Political Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt edited by Allida M. Black is a collection of Eleanor Roosevelt’s political writings from her columns, articles, essays and speeches. There are many books that have been written about Eleanor Roosevelt, however, this is written by the woman herself! This is a great book to deeply dive into the 1930s through the perspective of the one of the most known and influential woman of the time!

Some other titles I think you should look at:

The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand (American philosophy from 1865 to 1919)

That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum (globalization and futurism)

Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White (a look at the daily lives of slave women in the 19th century)

By Molly L. ’16

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Book-Music Pairings

Book-Music Pairings

Some books just scream for the perfect playlist or song to go with them. Sophia Y. ’19 has your back.

kentuckyclubThe book: Everything Begins And Ends At The Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The song: Love Love Love by Of Monsters And Men

Everything Begins And Ends With Love:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz is one of my favorite authors. Both his language and books are indescribably thought provoking and gut wrenching. He has an amazing ability to connect to people, no matter the story. Everything Begins And Ends At The Kentucky Club is a collection of short stories, and like most of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s books, it steals your heart from your chest and shatters it. The seven short stories all have commonalities that tie them together. Firstly, they all have The Kentucky Club in them, hence the title. You could argue about the other commonalities, as they are all thematic. Nevertheless, love being taken, or violated, or treacherously navigated is something that beautifully plays across all of the stories, tying them once again all together.

Of Monsters And Men’s acoustic ballad Love Love Love fits with this book in many important ways. One was the bittersweet and tender feel of the music, which for me encapsulated the brokenly gentle loving quality of the book. This song also contains the lyrics “And these bright blue eyes/Can only meet mine/Across a room/Filled with people that are less important than you/All ‘cause you Love Love Love when you know I can’t love,” which I once again felt matched the themes of the stories excellently. Throughout the course of the song the music starts sadly and quietly becomes a bit more hopeful in the middle and then fades out sadly like the beginning. This narrative of music also hinted at the search or grasping of hope in some of the stories, which just added to my joy at finding how perfectly I believed this breathtakingly beautiful song lined up with this shatteringly amazing collection of stories.

wintergirlsThe book: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
The song: Dark Storms {Acoustic Version} By Our Last Night

A Dark And Stormy Winter:
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is one of those novels that will stay with you for a long time. This story of one girl’s life deals with life-shattering guilt, grief, and the struggle of battling anorexia. Lia’s former best friend, Cassie, dies alone in a hotel room after calling her thirty-three times. Believing that she alone is responsible for the death of Cassie, Lia starts to see Cassie’s ghost and begins a downwards spiral getting more and more buried underneath shame, remorse, isolation, and a deep sadness.

Our Last Night is, sadly, a relatively unknown band. Their song Dark Storms is moving and powerful regardless of whether you listen to the regular version or the acoustic version. The more toned down acoustic version to me fit better as it seemed more regretful, and lonely. Lyrics for this song fit seamlessly with the book. Both the book and the song complement each other incredibly well with an overall quality of guilt, and a summary of struggling and pain captured within each.

avalavenderThe book: The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
The song: Clouds by Zach Sobiech

The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of The Clouds:
Distinctively, The Strange And Beautiful Sorrows Of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton is one of the few books that spans the stories of four generations. Written in breathtakingly beautiful language, this story with its slight magical realism and themes of love is ineffably gorgeous and simply heartbreaking. Raw and powerful, this novel starts with the story of Ava Lavender’s great-grandmother, Maman, and ends with her own story. Ava Lavender is a girl born with wings, and her story along with her ancestors’ is one of family, passion, love, grief, obsession, and flight.

The song Clouds was written by Zach Sobiech as a kind of parting gift after he was informed that he had about a year to left to live. Sadly, Zach Sobiech did die in 2013, about five months after he released this song at the age of eighteen. The bittersweet and resigned sorrowful quality of the music really expressed the overall tone of the narrative of Ava Lavender. The theme of flying in the clouds was an added bonus, matching the eloquently woven metaphor of flight in the book perfectly: “We’ll go up, up, up/But I’ll fly a little higher/Go up in the clouds because the view’s a little nicer/Up here, my dear/It won’t be long now/It won’t be long now.”

yourfathersThe book: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers
The song: Wrong Side Of Heaven by Five Finger Death Punch

The Wrong Side Of Forever:
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers is an incredibly unique book, filled only with dialogue. The book starts off with a NASA astronaut, Kev Paciorek, waking up after being kidnapped by a man who he at first does not remember. Thomas, the kidnapper, reveals that he went to collage with Kev. We later learn that Thomas kidnapped him in order to talk with him about life, and struggles. Thomas is, in his own way, trying to understand the universe. Throughout the book Thomas kidnaps many more people in his quest to cope with events in his life and grapple with his understanding of people and life in general. Although Thomas’ kidnappings are considered from a normal societal point of view, very wrong, this book does an interesting job of getting you to understand Thomas and sympathize with him. To his credit, even though Thomas threatens many of his captives, he doesn’t actually hurt anybody under his care. I believe that this book provides a really amazing window for examining human morality, and your own morality, as at the end of the book I still really connected to Thomas despite his many crimes.

Wrong Side Of Heaven by Five Finger Death Punch was inspired by the band’s dedication to raise awareness for veterans and for the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder. The theme of the music as well as the lyrics and the inspiration of the song really fit with this book. Some of the lyrics from the chorus are “I’m no hero/And I’m not made of stone/Right or wrong/I can hardly tell/I’m on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell.” This song to me really helps portray the mixed morality of Thomas and his choices in the book as well as staying within the same themes of wrestling with life and coping in general.

CAUTION: This final entry necessarily contains spoilers for the book. Are you ready?










WeWereLiarsJacketFinalThe book: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
The song: Arsonist’s Lullaby by Hozier

A Liar’s Lullaby:
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a book with many twists that keep you on your toes, and a plot that demands you read the entire thing in one sitting. Told out of chronological order, Cadence’s riveting narrative will have you desperately trying to piece together the full story.

There were two main things that drew me to chose Arsonist’s Lullaby by Hozier as the quintessential counterpart to We Were Liars. The first thing was the perfect title. The second thing was the perfect lyrics. This is a book where one could argue that the climax is the committing of arson. The whole story is basically dedicated to that event/what caused it and the recovery afterwards, so I literally cannot think of a better title than Arsonist’s Lullaby. You could interpret the lyrics of Arsonist’s Lullaby in many different ways, but my favorite interpretation was always that the song is about schizophrenia and hallucinations, which Cadence experiences throughout the story.

By Sophia Y. ’19

**Slider image by Jeff Golden.

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Non-Perishable Food Drive by WWS Club-Part of the Edible Book Festival

Non-Perishable Food Drive by WWS Club-Part of the Edible Book Festival

wws photo

Do you remember the Edible Books Festival that the library hosted last year? Well now it’s back, in all of its glory, but with an awesome, community action themed addition! The We Won’t Stop Club, working in collaboration with the library, is hosting a book themed food drive, with proceeds going to the Ecumenical Hunger Program.

You, the students, will be able to give back to the community by voting for your favorite books, through your food donations. To vote, simply drop your canned or boxed nonperishables into the container representing the book that you like best. We will have competitions between Out of My Mind and Wonder, Divergent and The Hunger Games, and the ultimate competition between The Fault in Our Stars and Harry Potter. The food collection containers will be outside of the library, middle school lobby, and the green doors.

The foods most needed by the Eccumenical Hunger Program are canned soup, boxed milk, nuts, vacuum tuna or tuna salad kits, ready-made meals, pop top cans (especially chili and soup), oatmeal, and crackers.

The food drive will start on March 16th, and finish the day of the Edible Books Festival, March 30th. Get excited to show some literary spirit and contribute to a fantastic organization!

by Sophie N.L. ’19 and Claire S. ’19

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