Archive | August, 2013

Into the fire

31 Aug

Goodbye summer, time of relaxation.

I’ve gone from 0 to 60 this week. Summer vacation to full on EVERYTHING. Not only has school started, but so have my out of school activities. And the Great Fall Basset Relinquishment  has returned. There are seasons when people decide to give up dogs, and the end of summer is one of them.

We have three 18-month old male littermates coming in. We might actually have places for them before we get them.

lucky2  This is Lucky.

milo 2 Here’s Milo.

otis1 And finally we have Otis.

Today I’m going to see  6-year old Oscar, who was taken in by a kind-hearted neighbor, but she can’t keep him.

Oscar1 Oscar2

I also did a home visit for a prospective adopter on Thursday and I have another one on Sunday. I love doing this and I love my job, but these things really cut into my reading and knitting time. Every September I have to relearn how to balance my life between work, volunteering  and pleasure. I don’t know how people with kids do it. You guys are saints.

Our team took a big hit yesterday

28 Aug

We are losing a teacher.

On Monday, we found out our kinder numbers are lower than projected and we were now considered over-staffed by 0.5. Yesterday we found out who would have to move. One of our kinder teachers will leave for a full-time position at another school and we will get a new teacher for what is now a half-time kin die job. We are devastated because this teacher has been at our school a very long time and seems woven into it’s very fabric.

At noon today we will all gather in her room, help her pack, move and unpack. It is the only formal good-bye we will get. She is being a very good sport about it all. She took a big hit for the team

In Octopus Alone,  written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan, Octopus in not a team player.


She lives alone in a cave and likes to watch the other sea creatures play, but rarely plays with them. She moves farther and farther away as they approach, until she finds  a cozy cave where she is completely alone. And then she realizes alone isn’t what she really wants after all.

I wish our departing team member all the best as she joins her new team.

From Utopia to Dystopia

26 Aug

Teachers go back to work today. I always tell people, it is a good thing I love my job, because otherwise, today would be heck. I don’t have all the time in the world anymore to read & knit, my two favorite summer activities. I should begin knitting small projects and reading short books.

With all that in mind, I just read a collection of dystopian short stories by a group of women writers.


Shards and Ashes features stories by nine female authors: Veronica Roth, Kelley Armstrong, Margaret Stohl, Rachel Cain, Nancy Holder, Melissa Marr, Kami Garcia, and Carrie Ryan. I’ll give a brief summary of a few of my favorites.

The first story, Hearken by Veronica Roth, was beautiful. The world is a perilous place where biobombs can go off at any time. The follow  Darya as she becomes a hearkener– a musically talented person with a brain implant that allows them to hear people’s life or death songs. This story alone is worth getting the book.

Branded by Kelley Armstrong is set in an outpost that s safe from the supernaturals, stragglers and hybrids. It is a hard place, and there is heartbreaking scene where a family asks to enter and are denied because their outpost has a dwindling food supply. Armstrong does an excellent job building a world in a short time.

The title of Melissa Marr’s story Corpse Eaters,  almost caused me to skip over it, but I’m glad I didn’t. This is a world invaded by creatures from somewhere else, who see humanity a s a food source. Harmony & Chris, unlike most people, are freedom fighters, trying to overthrow them, and their human collaborators.

The final story,  Miasma  by Carrie Ryan, is set in a world so polluted that miasmic plague is spreading. Frankie, our heroine, is working hard to keep her ill sister safe from the “doctors”, who wear beaks like doctors did during the Renaissance, and use ferret-like creatures to sniff out sick people. A beautiful story of love and sacrifice.

This week back will be exhausting. But it won;t be nearly as bad as the lives these characters have.


Whose story is it? by Nan Marino

25 Aug

I loved this post and thought you would, too. I remember Mr. Ziegler, my grade 8 teacher, reading aloud to us. I also remember Mrs. LeBreton’s voice as she did the “La la la la la” from “Ping”. What read aloud memories do you have?

Nerdy Book Club

The first (and only) time I heard the story Charlotte’s Web was in fourth grade.

My teacher, Mrs. Ziccardi, read the book aloud.

I remember how thirty-three fourth graders leaned toward her when she said that first line, “Where’s papa going with that ax?” and how the pages rustled when she turned them. Every morning before lunch, we would sit in the classroom with our heads on our desks and the lights out listening to Mrs Ziccardi read. The day that she got to the part where Charlotte spins the words “SOME PIG” in her web, we refused to go to lunch.  Instead we pleaded, “One more chapter. Pleeease!”


A few years ago, I picked up the book again, but I put it down after a few pages. Sometimes when we look at a childhood favorite through the prism of adulthood, the story seems different, and for this book…

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24 Aug


I love quiet, well-crafted  books that sneak up on you slowly. That is exactly what  happened with  Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco.

‘Bee’, short for Beatrice,  is an orphan who lives with a traveling carnival, where  endures taunts for the birthmark on her face. She is raised by Pauline, who tells her it is an angel’s kiss, teaches her to read & write and runs their hot dog cart. When Pauline is sent to work for another carnival, Bee is lost. Alone  and afraid of Ellis, the carnival owner, Bee runs away with her scruffy dog and a runty pig. They find a house with gingerbread trim where two mysterious women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, take her in. But Bee seems to be the only person able to see them .

Together, they create a family and Bee learns about friendship, her real family and finds the courage she has always had.

This beautiful story is full of loneliness, fear, hope and magic. Bee, and other characters, make some mistakes along the way, but, in the end, find their way home.

Candy can save the world

22 Aug

Growing up, my dad used to eat beets and tell my sister and I we should try them because they’d put hair on our chests. My dad had a very hairy chest and we would squeal. When one of my nieces was about 3, he’d tell her beets tasted like candy.  My niece would say, “Do you like candy? I don;t like candy.”

Several years ago, at the Hollywood Farmers Market, and I noticed all sorts of people walking about with gorgeous beets.  Alas, I didn’t eat beets. I thought I didn’t like them. I decided to be brave and find out what all the buzz was about, so I bought some and, it turns out, beets are earthy and delicious!

As an adult, I have learned to eat a lot of things I didn’t really enjoy as a child. And that is the underlying theme of  The Great Lollipop Caper by Dan Krall.


Instead of beets as the nasty food, we have capers. I still don’t really enjoy capers, but I really enjoyed this book.

Sour Mr. Caper is popular with adults, but longs to be loved by kids in the way Mr. Lollipop is. He sneaks into the lollipop factory and pours caper flavor into the vats of lollipop batter. The result is a disaster. Fortunately, Lollipop comes up with a win-win solution.

In first grade, I wrote a tory about a story called “The Pea Family and the Yellow Beans”. Maybe, after reading this, kids could write about other foodstuffs and the difficult problems they have to solve.

Crowns and Little Kingdoms

21 Aug

When I was a kid and my mom got really mad, she would often say “I’ll crown you!” to us. There is a family story that my eldest sister Karen once had the audacity to reply “Make mine pearls!”. It might have been diamonds.  Either way, it did not end well.

We are all kings & queens of our own little kingdoms, even Fiona & Lucy, who I often affectionately call Princess Pokeypants and Princess Poopypants. I  tell Fiona that she is the slowest dog in Christendom. Lucy doesn’t really poop her pants. She’s just cute.

Teachers are the kings & queens of their classrooms, though we don’t make the kids call us by anything other than our names. ( I once had a kid ask if he could call me Homey G.  I said no.) This year, we are adopting a pushing model for ESL and I am moving into someone else’s room. Each grade level has an assigned ESL teacher housed in another teacher’s classroom. The 4th grade team meets today to start working out how all this will work.There will require some negotiating of territory, professional and personal. The teacher whose room I am sharing has been very welcoming and is excited about our new co-teaching & collaboration model.

In Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, by Claudia Mills, Kelsey perceives herself as the Queen of Reading in her class.


When a reading contest is announced at school, Kelsey is determined to win. She scopes out her competition and comes up with a plan to determine if he’s cheating.

Claudia Mills gets kids. Every teacher has had a Kelsey, the kid who hides a book under the desk during Math to find out what happens.  In fact, the classroom I’m moving into will have 2 this year. Mills also understands the motivation of kids this year and how they come to understand the world. In her effort to get encourage the one kid in their class who isn’t reading for the contest, Kelsey struggles with her personal goal to win, but comes out a better person for it. In spying on  “the competition” she gets to know him better. In the end she makes 2 friends and that is a far better prize than winning the contest. although that’s pretty good, too.

The back cover indicates that there are 2 more books coming in the series, involving Kelsey’s 2 best friends: Annika Riz, Math Whiz  and Izzy Barr, Running Star.

Summer’s almost over…sigh!

20 Aug

It’s a good thing I love my job, otherwise this time of year would be horrid.  I don;t think the kids realize that teachers get anxious about the start of a new school year, just like they do.

Although it is written for a young audience,  Oliver and His Alligator really captures that nervous beginning of the year feeling.


Oliver’s strategy for dealing with his fear is having his alligator eat all scary things, both living and non-living. He just says “munch, munch” and they disappear into the alligator. I wish I had this power sometimes.

Eventually, alone in the room, Oliver hears laughter coming from inside the alligator and decides to join the fun. This book could be a catalyst to talking about times kids confronted their fears or to talk about their own first day jitters.

Schmid’s illustrations, like those in his previous book,  Perfectly Percy, are soft, friendly and very appealing.

Family Life

19 Aug

I go back to work this morning & I’m feeling a little bleary because I was at a honking huge wedding yesterday. How honking huge,  you may ask. Eleven bridesmaids, 11 groomsmen, 7  priests, 3 flower girls, 1 ring bearer and 1 crown bearer (it was a Greek Orthodox wedding & the bride & groom wear crowns, called stefana). There was a lot of food & drink. I ate too much & stayed up later than I normally do. I’m a light weight with alcohol, so at least I exhibited some self-control there, even though I walked to the wedding because the church was 3 blocks from my house.  The bride & groom were young people I’d taught Sunday School , although they weren’t in class together. I’ve known their families for about 15 years and I was surrounded by tons of people I knew, many of whom I think of as my Oregon family.

Saturday, I went to an engagement party where there was also a ton of food, drink, friends and family.

It was a good weekend to read Zebra Forest, a debut novel  by Adina Rishe Gewirtz.


Ever since she was small, Annie’s had three wishes:
1. Get tall
2. Have an adventure
3. Meet her father.

She tells us her father is dead, that her mother abandoned them to live with their grandmother, who lives in an isolated hose, near a birch and oak forest they call the Zebra Forest. Annie & her brother, Rew, spend a lot of time reading, playing and imagining in the forest.  There is a prison on the other side of the forest that employs a lot of people in the nearby town. When a large group of prisoners escapes, some of Annie’s wishes come to pass and she learns that all the stories her grandmother told her about her family, weren’t exactly the way things happened.

Although Annie is eleven, I think it the target audience is older than that. There are some dark family stories,  grandma’s mental health is questionable and the book is set in the summer of 1980 against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis. This is a beautifully written novel that a mature reader would enjoy.

Library Shenanigans and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief

17 Aug

I just finished Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstien, an action-packed, fast-paced middle-grade novel.


The story, in a nutshell,  involves twelve-year-old Kyle. He is one of a group of students  gets to stay overnight in the new town library, designed by his hero, the famous game maker Luigi Lemoncello).  Come morning Kyle must work with friends to solve puzzles in order to escape.

The disbelief comes with the library. Mr Lemoncello’s library is full of holograms, video screens,  locked doors and all kinds of gadgets. But at its heart, the book is a giant scavenger hunt and the kids involved need research skills, logic and a love of reading. The book is full of references and allusions to kid lit. Mr. Lemoncello is a 21st century Willy Wonka.

I can see the book being popular with kids who already read a lot, but it would be an excellent read aloud. Kids would be inspired to pick the book up themselves, but might also be inspired to read the books mentioned in this one.

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