One of the good ones

26 Sep

Today, we begin the 4th week of school. That means my students and I have been together 19 school days. It seems like more. I mean that in a good way, that it seems as though we’ve known each other more than 19 days. The first day of school feels a long time ago. And yet, the last day is so far in the future it is unimaginable.

In John David Anderson’s Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, a trio of sixth grade boys skip school to spend one last day with their teacher who has been hospitalized with cancer.

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Publisher’s Summary: Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.

Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Ms Bixby is, what the boys call, “one of the good ones”. She makes a difference in a way I think we all wanted to when we decided to join the profession. She inspires and brings things out in these boys that feel real. I am not ashamed to admit that I simultaneously laughed and cried as Steve, begins to sing

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.

I’m thinking that this one might be a read aloud. It will certainly be the subject of a book talk soon.

 

Leave Me Alone!

25 Sep

Knitters have lots of mantras. One of my favorites is One more row. Sometimes it is hard to stop. There is a peace, a rhythm, a compulsion to knitting. Living alone, I can find time t knit. Once Lucy is taken care of, time is mine. This is not true of the main character in Vera Brosgol’s  picture book, appropriately entitled  Leave Me Alone. That’s her mantra.

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Publisher’s Summary:An epic tale about one grandmother, a giant sack of yarn, and her ultimate quest to finish her knitting.

One day, a grandmother shouts, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” and leaves her tiny home and her very big family to journey to the moon and beyond to find peace and quiet to finish her knitting. Along the way, she encounters ravenous bears, obnoxious goats, and even hordes of aliens! But nothing stops grandma from accomplishing her goal—knitting sweaters for her many grandchildren to keep them warm and toasty for the coming winter.

This slyly clever and unexpectedly funny modern folktale by Vera Brosgol is certain to warm even the coldest of hearts.

First let me say, kudos to Vera Brosgol for getting the knitting right. Elizabeth Bird recently published an article about inaccurate depictions of knitting in children’s books.

I read this on Saturday morning, just before heading off to the Oregon Flock and Fibre Festival, which I will write about later this week. I actually dithered about whether to go or not, but reading the book helped me decide to go. Knitting can be solitary, but we need people to knit for and a community to help us learn and grow. So, thanks Vera, for a great book, that helped this 50+ knitter.

 

Cybils 2016

23 Sep

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A few weeks ago, the message came that applications were open for Cybils judges. I debated. Should I or shouldn’t I?  For the last 2 years, I served as a Round 2 judge for YA non-fiction.Round 1 judges narrow down nominations to 5-9 top titles. Round two judges select the best of the shortlist.

I knew I didn’t have the time to be a Round 1 judge. Book nominations open October 1 and close on the 15th. You’d be amazed how many books get nominated in that short time.  Round 1 readers start reading right away and have to have a shortlist by the end of December. Round 2 judges get started after that. We have to read all the titles on the short list and debate their merits, coming up with a decision that can be announced on February 14th.

Except this year, I won’t be reading; I’ll be listening. A few new categories were added this year. One of them was audiobooks and that is the category to which I applied and was selected to be a Round 2 judge.  I wanted to try something new and I have really upped my audiobook consumption this year. When you apply, you can apply to up to three categories. Regardless of the category, you have to attach a link to a blog post that shows your ability to review that category.

I am excited to be a judge again this year and excited to stretch myself and take on a new challenge.

What’s a one-headed troll to do?

21 Sep

Go on a quest of course!

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Publisher’s Summary:Bera doesn’t ask for much in life. She’s a solitary, humble troll, tending her island pumpkin patch in cheerful isolation. She isn’t looking for any trouble.

But when trouble comes to find her, it comes in spades. A human baby has arrived in the realm of the trolls, and nobody knows where it came from, but Bera seems to be the only person who doesn’t want it dead. There’s nothing to it but to return the adorable little thing to its parents.

Like it or not, Bera’s gone and found herself a quest.

From noted picture book illustrator and graphic novelist (Maddy Kettle) Eric Orchard comes Bera the One-Headed Troll, a delightful new fantasy adventure with all the sweetness, spookiness, and satisfaction of your favorite childhood bedtime story.

When I picked this up, I worried it might be scary or gory,  but it was nothing of the sort. It was completely delightful. Bera is a sweet soul.

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Faced with the baby’s arrival, she tries to do the right thing. On her journey she encounters all kids of creatures who want to harm the baby, but she doesn’t let them harm the tiny human. 1448462721-9781626721067-in06

This is a delightful graphic novel for elementary school aged readers.

Navigating the classroom

20 Sep

There are 29 kids in each of my 6th grade classes this year.  It feels like a blessing because the were 38 and 39 in last year’s classes. It was a huge challenge to conference during writer’s workshop because we were packed in like sardines. compared to last year, conferencing is a breeze. Not only do I have space, but I have fewer students, so I can talk to each.

There was a time I would have considered 28 an abomination. I remember the first year I had 25. The I groaned, but I long for those days. I wrote this poem last year after I watched a skinny little girl squeeze between tables – a feat I could not perform.

38 kids

I watch

the petite 6th grader

dance

and

weave

between chairs,

lithely

navigating

obstacles in

our overcrowded classroom.

How must it look to her

as my half century bulk

rises and squeezes

through

the

maze?

Chairs are

pulled in

and I

suck

in

my

belly

hunching my shoulders

to keep my matronly bosom

out of an eye.

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Let the Battles Begin

19 Sep

On Wednesday, I will hold the first of two informational meetings about the 2016-17 OBOB season.

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Last year, I learned a to about how organizing Oregon Battle of the Books is different in middle school from elementary school. I learned that different elementary schools do things differently and I need to inform the 6th graders more clearly how we will do it.

I’ve also been reading the books. I’m not quite done, but I’ve read most of them. In case you’re curious here is the list.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (2011)  Follows a 14-year-old American girl whose life unexpectedly transforms when she moves to London in 1952 and gets swept up in a race to save the world from nuclear war.

Centaur Rising by Jane Yolen (2014)  In 1965, a year after Arianne thinks she sees a shooting star land in the fields surrounding her family’s horse farm, a baby centaur is born. The family, already under scrutiny because Arianne’s six-year-old brother has birth defects, struggles to keep the colt a secret.

Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington (2014) Twelve-year-old Mysti Murphy likes to think of herself as a character in a book. Now, as the starts seventh grade, she is a character who has to cope with her agoraphobic mother, a father who is in the hospital with a head injury, and a best friend who is becoming quite a jerk.

Dark Life by Kat Falls (2010) When 15-year-old Ty, who has always lived on the ocean floor, joins Topside girl Gemma in the frontier’s underworld to seek and stop outlaws who threaten his home, they learn that the government may pose an even greater threat.

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart (2014) Contest-crazed 12-year-old Ben uses his wits and way with words in hopes of winning a prize that will keep his family from being evicted until his mother can pass her final CPA examination.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (2005) When his younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia, 13-year old Steven tries to deal with his complicated emotions, his school life, and his desire to support his family.

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014) Jackson Greene has a reputation as a prankster at Maplewood Middle School. After last disaster, he is trying to go straight. But he has to come out of retirement to make sure Keith Sinclair doesn’t steal the election for school president.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (2015) After learning he is sick with cancer for a third time, Mark runs away with his dog, Beau, planning climb Mount Rainier. Only his best friend, Jessie, suspects the truth about what he is doing.

The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner (2009) Thirteen-year-old Atticus “Tick” Higginbottom begins receiving mysterious letters from around world signed only “M.G.” The clue lead him on an adventure, journeying to the perilous 13th Reality.

Masterminds by Gordon Korman (2015) Eli Frieden lives in the most perfect town in the world: Serenity, New Mexico. Here everything is beautiful and no child would ever lie. One day, near the edge of the city, he stumbles into a situation that leads him to discover a connection between his town and the greatest criminal masterminds ever known.

The Menagerie by Tui T. & Kari Sutherland (2013) When 12-year-old Logan Wilde wakes up to discover a baby griffin hiding under his bed, he suddenly finds himself thrown into a mystery involving his classmate Zoe Kahn and a magical menagerie right in the middle of his sleepy Wyoming town.

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2015)  When the Berlin Wall went up, Gerta, along with her mother and brother, are trapped in East Germany. Her father and other brother are in the West. After four years apart, Gerta receives a message from her father, urging her to risk her life in an attempt to tunnel to freedom.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) When a burning cross left by the Ku Klux Klan causes panic and fear across the town of Bumblebee, North Carolina in 1932, fifth-grade Stella faces prejudice and find the strength to demand change in her segregated town.

Unfriended by Rachel Vail (2014)  When 13-year-old Truly is invited to sit at the Popular Table, she finds herself caught in a web of lies and misunderstandings, complicated by the hyperconnected world of social media.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann (2011)  Identical twins Aaron and Alex live in a society that purges 13-year-olds who are creative. As they reach age 13, pair is separated. One is sent to University. The other—supposed set for elimination—lands in a wondrous and magical place.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi (2014) While practicing for their next baseball game, 13-year-old friends Rabi, Miguel, and Joe discover that the nefarious activities of the local meatpacking plant have caused the cows of Delbe, Iowa to turn into zombies.

A story of friendship

18 Sep

I have a first period reading class every other day. The first half is supposed to be silent reading. The second half is supposed to be instruction in reading strategies, etc, though we have a little more leeway on Fridays.

Well, Friday found me deep in the book I was reading, When Friendship Followed Me Home  by Paul Griffin.

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When the clock reached the point at which we should stop, I was at a critical place. I could have stopped, but it was Friday. My former elementary students used to say “Friday is free day”, so I told my class my dilemma and asked their indulgence. They voted unanimously to continue reading all period.

Publisher’s Summary: Ben Coffin has never been one for making friends. As a former foster kid, he knows people can up and leave without so much as a goodbye. Ben prefers to spend his time with the characters in his favorite sci-fi books…until he rescues an abandoned mutt from the alley next-door to the Coney Island Library.

Scruffy little Flip leads Ben to befriend a fellow book-lover named Halley—yes, like the comet—a girl unlike anyone he has ever met. Ben begins thinking of her as “Rainbow Girl” because of her crazy-colored clothes and her laugh, pure magic, the kind that makes you smile away the stormiest day.

Rainbow Girl convinces Ben to write a novel with her.  But as their story unfolds Ben’s life begins to unravel, and Ben must discover for himself the truth about friendship and the meaning of home.

Paul Griffin’s breathtaking middle-grade debut will warm your heart as much as it breaks it.

I finished the book, just before the bell rang. If I;d been home, I probably would have cried. I made an immediate decision. I was so moved by this book, that I decided it would be my BookTalk book for today, instead of the one I’d planned. When Friendship Followed Me Home  was added to many “Next” lists.

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