Archive | July, 2014

A little “Recess” break

16 Jul

What do you get when you ask a group of graphic novelists to collaborate?


Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Dav Pilkey, Dan Santat, Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight and Gene Yang all contribute short pieces on the theme of every kid’s favorite subject: recess. They all come at it from a different able, but they are all really fun to read.

Some stories involve favorite characters like Babymouse and the Lunch Lady. Others are complete originals, but they are all wonderful. These are perfect for the end of July: light, graphic and brief, in case, like me, you feel the need for a nap along the way.

Short book. Short review. Now, enjoy the trailer.

The wallet

15 Jul


I’ve been getting up early these days. It is hot and I like to throw open the doors and open all the windows to air out the house before it heats up outside. The last few days, with the weather in the 90’s, I’ve been getting up at 4. It is an obsession, really. If the girls get up with me at 4, we just go out for a potty break on the yard. Sometime between 6 & 7, I take them for a walk.

Saturday, started off as all days do. On our walk,  I encountered a wallet. I don’t wear my glasses when I walk the dogs, so I could see the big picture. There was a driver’s license and I guessed that the wallet owner’s first name was Laura. I could make out that she lived on Belmont Street, but I couldn’t read the numbers. It looked to me as though there was a substantial amount of Canadian money in the wallet. I took the wallet home to look at it more carefully with my glasses on, in hopes of finding a phone number.

Once home and wearing my glasses, I could see that the money was Australian. In fact, there was $110.00 in Australian currency. There was a bank card and credit cards but no phone number. Using the address on the driver’s license, I searched online for Laura’s phone number. No luck. Anything that might have had her number wanted me to pay for it. I am not that good a Samaritan. So, I decided I would just walk over later that morning.

Naturally, once I got to her address, which was a mere 10 minute walk away, there was no buzzer on her apartment.  I looked all around the building, but the only way in was a nondescript door with no way to call up, no indication of who lived there or how many apartments there were.  I couldn’t even figure out where the letter carrier might leave mail for the occupants. She lived above a cafe, so I went in to ask if they knew her. The counter server said yes she did and she would probably be down shortly. So, with a slight hesitation, I accepted her offer to hold the wallet and give it to Laura as soon as she appeared. And I walked away.

I wish I’d left a number or a note. I’d like to know for sure Laura got her wallet back, but I have to accept on faith that the counter server was telling me the truth.



Not for the faint of heart

14 Jul


It took me a while, but I finished Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. I had a little trouble getting into it. In fact, I started it twice before I really committed to finishing it. This happens sometimes. The older I get, the more willing I am to abandon a book that really isn’t working for me. But I didn’t in this case and I’m glad I didn’t.

Grasshopper Jungle begins slowly, with the development and description of the town and characters. It is poetic and foul-mouthed and over the top at times. Sometimes when I was reading the book, I wanted to get away. When I was away, it called to me to come finish it. Andrew Smith is a beautiful writer, but he certainly doesn’t shy away from obscenities or the descriptions of the sexual thoughts of teenage boys. But it is the quality of the story-telling that got me. He spirals things around and suddenly you are int he midst of a tornado. Not a real tornado, but a cataclysm that is more destructive, though less likely to happen.

The story is funny and dark at the same time. It is about adolescence, GMOs, and reflections on ancestry.

Goodreads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.

To make matters worse, Austin’s hormones are totally oblivious; they don’t care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He’s stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it’s up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

This is considered a YA novel, but I think a lot of adults might enjoy it. If you pick it up and feel frustrated or repulsed, don’t give up. Persevere. Revel in the poetry of the writing.

Summer is OBOB, bob, bobbing along

13 Jul

The first four weeks of summer vacation are over. There are still six weeks to go, and that fact makes me a little giddy. It hasn’t all been fun and games. Yes, it’s been mostly fun and games, but I have been doing some serious professional reading, too. I am a PD facilitator for my school and in 2014-15, we are focusing on the Common Core Reading standards. Woohoo! Last year we focused on Math and I had to fake knowing what I was talking about. This year I feel as though I am in my element. But, to give myself a head start, I’m reading The Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Chris Lehman.


I’m not plowing through it. I’m reading a section every morning as I drink my coffee. It is rather readable and explains things very well.

My other professional reading pile is made up of OBOB books. I have read half of the books so far:

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney


I have the other half to go.

Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts

A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

Sasquatch by Roland Smith

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Swindle by Gordon Korman

Tales from the Odyssey, Part One by Mary Pope Osborne

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

2015 3-5 map Poster

I hope your summer reading plans are progressing as nicely as mine!


12 Jul

These are excellent ways to get kids jazzed about reading. If you haven’t read any of Donalyn Miller’s books, you should look for them. I know Multnomah County Library has them.

Nerdy Book Club

We are intermediate grade teachers who have learned over the years that there are practices that get kids excited about reading.   We tried to rank them but decided they were all equally important.  We can’t imagine eliminating any of them, so these are not in any particular order.

1.  Know your kids.

Did Katie’s hamster die last night?  Is Michael upset because his parents are getting a divorce?  If you know your kids, you can connect readers with books.  LOVE THAT DOG may help Katie express her feelings about her beloved pet.  BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX may help Michael see his parents as people and forgive them.  Books speak to our students.  Keep students in mind when you read books.

2.  Read aloud EVERY DAY.

We know there is not enough time in the day for all you have to do.  But don’t give up reading…

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Heat Wave Reading

10 Jul

We are in the midst of a heat wave. By many standards, this is nothing and I am being a weenie.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 5.13.05 AM

I know it is hotter in many parts of the world. And yes, this is a dry heat, not a humid one, but I do not enjoy hot weather.

Right  now, it is winter in Antarctica. Here’s the forecast for McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 5.17.15 AM

I don’t really want to be there either, but I can read about it and think cool thoughts, curled up with Nick Bertozzi’s  Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey.


This is a short graphic novel which compresses the narrative, but provides a good introduction to the Antarctic adventure on the Endurance.  Bertozzi’s pen & ink drawings capture the bleakness of the environment and the situation, while portraying the camaraderie among the men. The book includes an Afterword and a variety of sources for readers who want to learn more.

Another really good book I read about surviving disasters in antarctica was  Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts.


This story is about an Antarctic expedition you’ve never heard of, but it is way more dramatic than Shackleton’s. And it has a less happy ending. Here is the Goodreads summary:

On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.

Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”

This thrilling and almost unbelievable account establishes Mawson in his rightful place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders. It is illustrated by a trove of Frank Hurley’s famous Antarctic photographs, many never before published in the United States.

This book is written for an adult audience but good middle and high school readers could manage it. If you enjoy reading about Shackleton, I highly recommend this book. You will be in awe of Douglas Mawson’s will to survive.

And, maybe, you will feel a little cooler in the heat of the summer.

Summer books to movies

9 Jul

Last week, I went to see the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars. 


I was a little skeptical at first because Gus, portrayed by Ansel Elgort,  was not how I pictured him. As the movie progressed, I was OK because, although I still don;t think of Gus looking like Ansel, he captured his personality. Of course the movie left out important things. I wonder how people who didn’t read the book react to the presence of the swing set in the yard, then its later unexplained absence. All in all, it was a good adaptation.

I am looking forward to the August 22nd release of If I Stay, based on the novel by Gayle Forman, which I loved.


I saw the trailer for it when I went to see TFiOS and I am very hopeful.

Mockingjay, Part 1  doesn’t come out until November, but trailers have appeared. here are the first two:

I can hardly wait!!




A typical day on vacation

8 Jul


I have reached the point in summer when I sometimes don’t know what day of the week it is. This is a good place to be, though last week I missed slicing because I forgot it was Tuesday, Slice of Life day. I am getting my hair cut this afternoon, so I have made an effort to be on top of the date. I forget what day it is because most days look the same.

I get up early, even earlier when it is hot, to cool the house down. I take the girls out for a potty break then drink coffee and  read. Today, because I got up at 4, I will finish Grasshopper Jungle before dawn.

Once the coffee is finished, my mornings are all about puttering. I make tea, I listen to NPR, read some more, knit. I am working my way through Pathways to the Common Core, reading one chapter a day, just to keep my chops. I will take the girls for a proper walk sometime between 9 and 11, depending upon what time I got up originally. Every other day I clean Fiona’s ears before our walk. If I have to run errands, I usually do them in the morning. If I plan to do any writing, it happens in the morning, too.

After lunch, I will read and knit more seriously. I often have a nap in the afternoon. One of my goals for the summer is to learn to knit Sanquhar gloves. I have a project to finish before I get to do that. The girls get a short walk in the afternoon because it is too hot for Fiona. I like to listen to NPR or an audiobook when I’m knitting.

By evening, I’m getting tired after so much exertion. Haha.  I might watch a movie, read some more, knit if I am maniacally trying to get a project finished or  get to a logical stopping point for the day. The girls will get an evening potty walk, the length of which depends upon how  hot it is.

I’ve done a fair amount of work for Oregon Basset Hound Rescue, since I have the time to do it. I’ve done home visits from Sandy to Saint Helens this summer . The Oregon Basset Hound Games are coming on July 19th and I’ve been getting things ready for that.

Life is good.

Wrapping up a series

7 Jul


Yesterday, I finished listening to The City of Heavenly Fire, the sixth and final book in the final book in  The Mortal Instruments  series by Cassandra Clare, which was generously provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

I read about half of the previous 5 books and listened to the other half. As series  go, they  work really well as audiobooks, although I wish there had been more consistency of narrators over the series.

The City of Heavenly Fire was the first book to be narrated by two readers. I am not sure why this decision was made because I found it a distraction. Rather than simply listening to the story and reflecting on it, I was trying to figure out why each narrator got each section. Sophie Taylor, who portrays Sana Stark, was by far the better of the two narrators. That said, I wish she had just read in re regular English accent, rather than switching between English and American accents. She did the accents well, but it was unnecessary. Jason Dohring, and actor known for Veronica Mars, was a terrible narrator. I suspect they were both chosen for their “star factor”, but I’d rather have had one good narrator. Dohring’s delivery was flat and he should never do English accents.

The book itself was enjoyable, full of action and a high body count. It was a much better book that  a couple of the idle books which irritated me because Clary spent an awful lot of time mooning over Jace. She has her mojo back in this book, thank goodness. The arc of the story itself ended on disc 15 and the last 2 discs are devoted to wrapping up all the loose ends of the series, which I found satisfying. One criticism I have of the book is that Clare spent time introducing characters who will form the core of her next series, The Dark Artifices. 

If you’ve made it through the first five books, however, you will enjoy reading this conclusion.

It’s hot, so here are some cool books about water

6 Jul

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I am not a fan of hot weather. There. I’ve said it. I love the cool spring & Fall we have here in the Pacific Northwest.  Fiona has a really hard time in the heat and sometimes I soak a towel and lay it on top of her to help her out. The two books above tell about water related problems and what you can do to help.

Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman does what the title suggests. It follows a team of researchers, all young women, explored the area of the Pacific where millions of pieces of plastic have collected. A lot of it has broken into tiny confetti-sized pieces and they wanted to know how those pieces were affecting ocean life. This narrative non-fiction book is well-organized. The  first three chapters give background information about the project, the garbage situation and the area of the Pacific they will be visiting. The next three chapters tell the project each of the three are investigating: “Miriam’s Hitchkikers”, Darcy Follows Phytoplankyon”  and “Chelsea’s Plastic Puzzle”. The final chapter “Charting the Answers” brings it all together. Backmatter includes source notes, glossary, bibliography for further reading and an index. This is an excellent book: highly engaging, very readable and chock full of photos that enhance the text and let young readers see scientists in action.

Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home by Michelle Mulder sheds light on the fact that, in many parts of the world,  finding clean water is a daily challenge, and kids are often the ones responsible for carrying water to their homes. It  tells of the journey our water has taken to reach our water faucets or toilets. This book, filled with colorful photographs and stories, provides some of the history behind wells, reservoirs, and waste water treatment plants as well as making clear the laborious process of hauling water home every day. It is a short book that covers a lot in a highly engaging and readable manner. Like  Plastic Ahoy!, this book also has amusing chapter titles.

I suggest reading these in the shade of big old tree, with a nice glass of cool water handy to refresh yourself.

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