Short

23 Feb

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Like Julia,  the main character of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Short,  I was always in the front row for school pictures. Like her, I could use a step stool to reach the water glasses in the kitchen, but I generally use a ladle to extend my reach and pull one forward.

Also like Julia, I know how hard it is to lose a beloved dog. Her dog, Ramon, dies just before the book opens, but we learn about it in the first chapter.

Publisher’s Summary:In this heartwarming and funny middle-grade novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s, Julia grows into herself while playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz
 
Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive—one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins—and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background—and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!

Bubbling over with humor and tenderness, this is an irresistible story of self-discovery and of the role models who forever change us.

Julia is a quirky and lovable main character. Her observations about the world of the theatre  are insightful, funny, and sometimes she admits she has no idea what the adults are talking about. It is sort of how it is for kids. Shawn Barr (the director),  Olive (her munchkin companion), and Mrs. Chang ( her neighbor and costumer) all help Julia overcome the loss of Ramon and grow in character, if not in stature. A great book for middle grade readers.

 

This is not a drill…sort of

21 Feb

“This is a lockdown. Locks. Lights. Out of Sight. This is a lockdown. Locks. Lights. Out of Sight.”

I’d been puttering around my classroom during my end of the day plan when the announcement came over the intercom. Two thoughts flashed through my mind: Was this on the calendar?  and They didn’t say drill.

I  quickly grabbed my keys to lock the door and, as I pulled the blind, I noticed a seventh grade girl on her way back to her classroom from the restroom. Her classroom door was already locked so I called her into my room. We moved to the most out-of-the-way corner  of the room silently.

She was clearly worried. I whispered to her that I couldn’t call her teacher. What I didn’t say was that, if this wasn’t a drill, we’d give them away. I whispered again to let her know I’d look on my laptop to see what was going on. Usually, when there is any sort of safety issue, a banner runs across the top of the school district’s website. Early today we’d al been warned about phone outages at another middle school. But nothing scrolled there now. I told her that this was probably an unscheduled drill, even though that was weird.

After about 10 minutes we could hear movement in the hallways, a single voice It was disconcerting not knowing what was going on. I wanted to lift the blind and peek out to the hallway, but resisted. What if it wasn’t a drill. We could hear the single voice getting closer and the jingle of keys. I let my young companion know that we were not allowed to open the door. Anyone on the outside had to identify his/herself to us and open the door with their own key. And sure enough, that is what happened.

A couple of knocks on the door, then, “This is Mrs. _____.” The jangling of her keys preceded the opening of the door. Once it was open she told us a teacher had pressed the newly installed “Lock down” button on the phone by accident. I waited with my student until her room was unlocked. Her teacher gave her a big hug.

The school buzzed afterwards. Messages were sent to staff and families. Our administrators praised staff & students for the swiftness and silence of our reaction  to the unexpected drill. We have a staff meeting this morning and I bet the new phone buttons will be addressed.  All staff had been sent a video explaining how to use (and cancel) the new buttons. I still haven’t watched them, but I like to get to work early, so I will be sure I’ve watched the video before the staff ,meeting begins.

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Second Looks

20 Feb

Two times in my life I have abandoned books, only to return to them on the advice of my twin  sister, and been thrilled to have done so.

The first time was in 1994 and the book was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

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The opening chapter about the bean in the ear threw me off the scent of a great book.

The second happened just this week. I had started, then abandoned David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite because it opens in a police station with talk of a gruesome murder.

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That’s not my usual cup of tea, so I set it aside. Then, my sister asked if I had read it. I told her why I had abandoned it and she told me I should give it another try. So I did. You should give it a try, too.

Publisher’s Summary: Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.

Can I just say, too, that this is one of the best publisher’s summaries I’ve seen in a ling time.

I think, because I work with youth, I have heard enough stories of crappy lives kids have, that little shocks me. The crappy lives of the kids in David Arnold’s book aren’t especially crappy, but the story he has created is funny, heart-wrenching and sweet all at the same time. It doesn’t solve all their problems, but it gets them to a better place. We had a rainy weekend and I started and finished this book on Saturday,that is how engrossed I was in the stories of the lives of the Kids of Appetite.

HUB Reading Challenge Check-in 2/19

19 Feb

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I’ve spent the last two weeks putting books on hold at the library. Several things came in this week and I managed to read two of them, both excellent graphic novels.

First, I read Lowriders to the Center of Earth by local librarian, Cathy Camper, which won a Pura Belpré Award.

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Publisher’s Summary:The lovable trio from the acclaimed Lowriders in Space are back! Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus are living their dream at last. They’re the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat Genie goes missing, they need to do everything they can to find him. Little do they know the trail will lead them to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is keeping Genie prisoner! With cool Spanish phrases on every page, a glossary of terms, and an action-packed plot that sneaks in science as well as Aztec lore, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a linguistic and visual delight. ¡Que suave!

I read the first book in this series, but forgot how wonderful it was. The way Spanish is naturally incorporated into the text makes this a fun read for beginning Spanish speakers of all ages.Raúl the Third’s illustrations capture the flavor of  lucha libre and the Aztec underworld.

The second graphic novel I read was on YALSA’s 2017 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Brian Vaughn’s We Stand On Guard  incorporated French into its text.

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Publisher’s Summary:SAGA writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN teams with artistic legend and MATRIX storyboard artist STEVE SKROCE for an action-packed military thriller that will have everyone talking. 100 years from now, a heroic band of Canadian civilians must defend their homeland from invasion…by the United States of America! The hyper-detailed combat between badass freedom fighters and giant f***ing robots .

Unlike Lowriders, the French text is not translated, so I fell a little bit superior to monolingual (American) readers. You know the old joke:

Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?

A: Trilingual.

Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?

A: Bilingual.

Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?

A: American

Sorry for that digression, but I love that joke!

We Stand On Guard is an excellent graphic novel, that captures the eternal Canadian concern over their neighbor to the South.

This Week’s Book Talks- 2/13-17

17 Feb

Another full five-day week. That makes two in a row! President’s Day on Monday will break this streak, but I’m willing to suffer through another day off.

I bookended this week with nofiction, too. Monday’s book was Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman.

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Friday’s book was Blizzard by Jim Murphy.

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In between, there was poetry  and fiction.

Red Butterfly  by A. L.  Sonnichsen is novel in verse about a Chinese  girl with a deformed hand raised in secret by an American woman must navigate China’s strict adoption system.

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The idea of starting a mini-revolution got them excited about I kile the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora.

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I explianed how advanced readers copies work on Thursday. Now, many students want to read Gordon Korman’s Restart before their peers.

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The 2016 Cybils Awards

15 Feb

Well my term as a Round 2 Audiobooks judge for the 2016 Cybils Award is over. It was great fun doing something new, and listening to Audiobooks is a different way. The award winners were announced yesterday on the Cybils blog. But I wan to tell you about our winner and my nominee that won.

As a committee, we chose The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, for the Audiobooks award.

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Read by Vikas Adam, Mark Bramhall, Jonathan Cowley, Kimberly Farr, Adam Gidwitz, Ann Marie Lee, Bruce Mann, John H. Mayer, and Arthur Morey.
Listening Library

Nominated by: Katy Kramp

In a 13th century French inn, travelers including a nun, troubadour, and brewer, exchange stories of their encounters with three miraculous children who are set to be brought before the king for treason. Jeanne is a peasant girl who has visions; William, a teenage monk with incredible strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy who has healing powers. They are accompanied in their adventures by Gwenforte, Jeanne’s faithful greyhound, who has returned from the dead.

Using a style reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the oral story telling traditions of the past,The Inquisitor’s Tale is narrated by a full cast of characters, each of whom adds a new layer to the story, building to a satisfying conclusion. The variety of voices and accents makes the unfamiliar setting come to life for middle grade readers, who will also appreciate the slightly off-color humor, a dragon quest, and courage of the young heroes. Along the way, listeners get to know the three children and the multiple narrators, one of whom is the author, Adam Gidwitz.

The book I nominated in the poetry category, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan, was that category winner! This is the first time one of my nominees has won, so I am rather excited about this award.

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When this school year ends,
I will have spent
one thousand days
in this building.
I want a thousand more
so I’ll never have to say
goodbye to friends.

From “First Day” by Rachel Chieko Stein

Eighteen narrators, from diverse backgrounds and experiences, tell the story of their final year at elementary school before moving up to middle school.  Their final year also corresponds to the last year of Emerson Elementary itself. The school is scheduled to be demolished to build a supermarket in their food insecure neighborhood.

The fifth grade has been asked by their teacher, Ms. Hill, to write poems for a time capsule to be incorporated into the new building project. The poems in various forms reveal the distinctly personal stories of each student and the classroom dynamics. As the year unfolds, students find their voices by organizing and protesting the demolition of their beloved school.

Of all the candidates for this year’s award for poetry, the committee found The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary to be the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics.  Laura Shovan’s writing is masterful.  Readers will find themselves reflected in the experiences of the fifth graders.  A thumbnail illustration of each character accompanies the poem helping the reader further identify the character.  An introduction to poetry and poetic forms at the end completes the package.

Visit the Cybils blog to see the  annotated list of winners.

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Springs

14 Feb

This morning in the merry, merry wood

The trees with laughter shook.

They’s seen old Winter hobble past

A-leaning on his crook.

The crocus called good-bye to him

And the violet from her nook,

For Spring is here in shoes of green

Everywhere I look.

Our grade eight vocal ensemble sang this madrigal in three-part harmony. It was the late 70’s so I doubt any recordings remain, but the lyrics spoke loudly to me this weekend, from decades long past.

I had stepped out my back door to take out the trash, when my eye caught sight of something unexpected.

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What was the source of that splash of green under the leaf debris? Upon closer inspection, my hopes were realized.

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The daffodils are coming up!

It has been a hard winter. Unexpected snow and ice had us miss 10 days of school. Last week, we had torrential downpours that have caused landslides. The weekend gave us sunshine and you could feel the hearts of the city rise.

Saturday, as I took Lucy for a longer walk that we’ve had in a while, I heard birdsong. Actual birdsong! I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I had heard anything other than the cawing of crows. My heart swelled with this mellifluous sound.

I know we are in for more rain, and true Spring is still a few weeks off, but this little foretaste of Spring has put a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

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