Archive | August, 2014

Doggedly devoted

30 Aug

It has been whirlwind of a week. My classroom is set up enough to get me through the first week of school. Fiona and Lucy have readjusted to my return to work.


I have hardly read or knit all week. There’s just been too much to do and I returned home exhausted each evening. My stack of library books needs some serious attention. But here is a pair of picture books that I loved.

Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is about family.


Gaston is not like his sisters. He sometimes exasperates his mother.


When a chance encounter reveals that a mistake has been made, things look right. But they do not feel right. This book is about families, belonging, and square pegs in round holes.

David Ezra Stein’s I’m My Own Dog,  is another story about reversals.


Narrated from the dog’s point of view, we learn about an independent dog who fetches his own slippers. He can do everything for himself, except scratch that one spot in the middle of his back. So, one day, he lets a human scratch it. That poor human follows him home and eventually, dog finds that the human is a good companion.

Kids will love both of these books and I think they’d inspire some very funny writing by kids. The could tell stories from their pets’ perspective, or from the perspective of an animal in a zoo or in the wild. They could write about interspecies families.  They could also right about how they are the Gaston in their family.

These are also just really great read alouds too, especially as school begins and sometimes, that can have kids and teachers feeling a little like fish out of water.

Sounding my barbaric yawp

27 Aug

Today, I get to present to my staff about the CCSS for reading. There will be grumbles as I sound my barbaric yawp about best teaching practices in reading. I know this. I am prepared. I am going to show them this and maybe other clips from Dead Poets’ Society. Really, it comes down to this question: Do you want to be Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, or do you want to be Mr. Keating?

Last week I started reading Falling in Love With Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.


I will be facilitating a book group/action research group with any staff members who are interested. I am hopeful that we have a biggish group, and that there are some people who join who might be a little uncomfortable with the whole thing.

I am excited about all the changes happening for me this year, but had a little meltdown when I got home yesterday because I haven’t had a chance to unpack any of my stuff and we are full on for meetings all day today and tomorrow morning. It’s this way every year.  I know, once the real business of teaching begins, it will be good. I just have to make it through this week.



Ear piercing: A Slice of life story

26 Aug



Mr. Faruzel pierced me the first time. It was our 12th birthday. My mom, twin sister and I walked down Huron Street to his house, where he had a beauty salon. We got to pick a pair of birthstone earrings off a card and he used a piercing gun. It was over quickly and easily, so much so that my mother went to get hers pierced a few weeks later. Mr. Faruzel was a German speaker, born in Poland  in the 1920’s, and had been in the Hitler Youth as a boy, like every other young German his age. He was a very kind man and had a son, Edward, who had muscular dystrophy.

I wore earrings religiously for decades. Then, for some unknown reason, I stopped. My holes grew smaller and before too long, it became impossible to wear them, even when I wanted to.

This summer, I decided I would repierce my ears. My sister offered to poke me with a sewing needle. I declined. I have very sensitive skin and history of MRSA, so I wanted a real professional to do the job. I sent out queries to my Facebook friends and got a few responses back. I checked out websites and YELP reviews and finally made my decision.

Friday morning, I got up with a plan in mind. I had a hair appointment and wanted to go see the 11:20 showing of the movie If I Stay.  After the movie, I would get it done. That was my plan.

Well, as I exited the theatre and checked the time on my phone because, piercing salons don’t open before noon. There was an urgent message from my teaching partner. I called to learn she would be leaving 4th grade, leaving our school, to teach first grade elsewhere in the district. At first, I thought she was joking. I asked to meet her for coffee and she invited me over, since I was already close. on my drive there, I had an inspiration. I could take her 4th grade job. At her house, where another teammate joined us, i told her my idea. She encouraged me to call our principal, who happened to have the same idea. So, I am once again a 4th grade classroom teacher. I didn’t leave until after 5 and by then, the piercing salon was closed.

Saturday morning, I got up early to throw open the doors and windows to cool the house down. I hemmed and hawed about getting the piercing, doubting my decision. I took a nap. When I woke up, I was resolved to carry out my plan.

I went to Nomad piercing Studio on Division Street in Portland., owned and operated by a man named Blake. I chose his studio because that’s all they do. No tattoos. No haircuts. Just piercings. His website is really interesting and has a video showing him piercing a 3 year old’s ears. That convinced me that this was the place to go.  His studio also has a museum, showing his collection of body art and piercings.

We had a nice chat and he said he wouldn’t really have to repierce, just open the holes, as if he were enlarging them to put in the sort of plugs he wears. This is Blake.


You can see the plugs he has in his ears and the labret in his bottom lip.  It was over quickly and I now have a captive ball ring in each ear. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be as adorned as Blake, or many others in Portland, but I’m feeling pretty cool right now.

Maptastic thoughts on personal geography

25 Aug

I recently finished listening to Andrew Clements’  The Map Trap.


Alton loves maps and draws his own personal geographies of people and experiences. Some of them are brutally honest, so he doesn’t show them to others. Alas, one day his collection goes missing and he goes on a mission to find them and the person who is holding them hostage. The book is about what you’d expect from Andrew Clements, though shorter than many of this other books. There is a precious kid with a problem to solve. I think, though, that my prediction about the culprit was better than Clements’ actual perpetrator. Even though his teacher is a first year teacher, I can’t imagine she would be so unprofessional as to blackmail a student to confront a principal about saying “um” or make him change the type of t-shirt he wears. I suspected it was Alton’s little sister, and I would expect someone her age to blackmail a  sibling into doing those sorts of activities.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Keith Nobbs who does a marvelous job. Quite frankly, he saved it for me.  Nobbs projects a youthful voice appropriate to the characters in the novel, whom he manages ti differentiate nicely. His narration of the more descriptive elements of the book provides a nice balance with the emotional states of the characters.

The 2 CD Simon & Schuster audiobook, which runs 2 hours & 30 minutes, was provided to me by Audiobook Jukebox.

As I was listening to the book, an idea took hold. In spite of the books faults, it could be a good read aloud during a map unit. Or, it could be a great beginning of the year read aloud that helps turn kids on to ways of representing themselves.

Imagine reading The Map Trap  aloud, but coupling it with non-fiction texts about mapping personal geographies!

For younger readers, or to introduce the idea, you could turn to Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book.


This is a wonderful book in which she maps everything from a bedroom to a dog.

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For older readers, there is You Are Here: Personal geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon.


 Some of these have some mature content, so be sure to preview it before sharing it with kids. The book was written with an adult audience in mind, but the ideas contained within are beautiful and though provoking.

The idea of mapping your personal geography flows into the art of info graphics. James Gulliver Hancock has a new book out entitled Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers: Portraits of 50 famous Folks & All Their Weird Stuff.


From Abraham Lincoln to the Wright Brothers, Hancock creates mind maps of famous lives.


Wouldn’t this be a cool beginning of the year activity? You’d learn about your students and you could see what kind of thinking and graphic skills they have.

August 24, 1814

24 Aug

Two hundred years ago today, the White House burned.


On august 24, 1814, the United States lost a battle to the British on the outskirts of Washington D.C.. Citizens and soldiers fled the city and the British entered the city and burned the Capitol building and the White House.

Jane Sutcliffe has a new book all about it.


Drawing from primary sources,  The White House is Burning tells the story of this one day in history, through multiple voices. beginning before dawn and moving chronologically through the night, we are skillfully introduced to major players and new technology, like rockets. In my mind Dolley Madison steals the show, with the letter she wrote throughout the day. This is a very readable history of on day during the War of 1812.



Beginning Year Read Alouds

23 Aug

This question always comes up at the beginning of the year, so hear is one person’s answer.

Three books

21 Aug

At my meeting yesterday, one of the icebreaker things we had to do was write down 3 books we thought every elementary student should read by the time they leave for middle school. You could feel the buzz in the room. People had lots of ideas, but no one started to write. The hard part was limiting it to three.

My first one was my first book love,  The Story of Ferdinand  by Munro Leaf.


It’s an old book, but when I read it lo, those many years ago, my eyes were opened. I was just like Ferdinand and I had never realized that I could identify so closely with the character in a book. Disney turned it into cartoon in 1938.

Next on my list was Frindle by Andrew Clements.


This was Clements’ first book and it is a wonderful tale about creative thought and the power of words.Brian Selznick’s black-and-white illustrations enhance the humor in this unforgettable story.

Finally, I chose a newer book, one that resonated with me very powerfully the first time I read it, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.


Just thinking about the book makes me get all soft & mushy inside.

As the day wore on, I added a few titles to my list, as did other people, but I wonder, what three books of you think  every elementary student should read by the time they leave for middle school

Stop whining & buck up

20 Aug

OK. Major attitude adjustment this morning. Yes, I have to go back but I get to see colleagues I’ve not seen for a while. I have a can do spirit this morning. At least, I am working on having one. Here are some picture books to inspire readers to overcome obstacles.


In Jane Sutcliffe’s  Stone Giant:Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be I learned that Michelangelo wasn’t the first person to carve the block of marble that became David. The block sat in the middle of Florence where  a few sculptors had tried to turn it into something, but no one succeeded. Michelangelo looked at the block, and the places where bits had been carved away, and saw his David. It is really a remarkable story. Illustrations show the process and show David in all his full frontal glory. Yes, kids will giggle, but I giggle at National Geographics as a kid and survived. let me share a few lines from the movie Calendar Girls:

MARIE: Naked!

CORA: It’s not naked. It’s nude.

MARIE: What’s the difference?


In The Numberlys by William Joyce and Christina Ellis, we encounter a time of numbers, but no letters.


All is black, white and gray; dull and lifeless, until a group of friends decides to shake things up. They create letters, then words  and bring color to the world. The book is mostly vertical and though the text is simple, it makes you think.

Finally, Hermelin the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey tells the story of a mouse with great talent for finding things.


Unfortunately, no one on Offley Street knows he is here. One day, he notices the message board where local residents have left notes about their missing jewels and pets. Suddenly, Hermelin is on the case! He returns the missing items to their rightful owners with typed notes, but no one knows where to find this mysterious detective. After he solves a missing persons case, the neighborhood holds a party for Hermelin, and they are surprised to discover his secret. The lovely detailed illustrations and happy ending will warm your heart.

Closing Time: A Slice of Life Story

19 Aug


Today is my last day. I have a two day training tomorrow, marking my return to work. That means summer vacation is over.

Today is my last day of freedom.

Although I am looking forward to the excitement of a new school year and the return of cooler weather, I am sad to let go of vacation.

It’s mostly my morning routine I’ll miss.Getting up early to open all windows and doors to let in the cool pre-dawn air. Hanging out in my pajamas a little longer than necessary. Drinking coffee on the sofa with a dog on either side of me. Having time to read as the sun comes up. Finishing the coffee and putting the kettle on for the pot of tea I will drink for the rest of the day.

Here is Tom Waits’ Closing Time which reflects how I am feeling today.

Every beginning of the school year is two parts exciting and one part nerve-wracking. I’m still in the nerve-wracking stage and have had to wear my night guard to bed because I’ve been grinding and clenching my teeth. Once we are back for a few days I’ll be more in the exciting part. I’ve already looked at the 4th grade class lists and things look OK. By October, it will feel as though summer was an age ago.



A picture Book Round Up

18 Aug

I was in Powell’s the other day and read a few picture books. They always have lovely displays and I find books I have on hold at the library and others I didn’t even know I wanted to read. Here are a few things I read.

I picked this one up because I thought it was a biography of Julia Child.


But if you look carefully, you will see that this book, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad, there is a comma in the title Julia, Child. Inspired by the idea of Julia Child, this book is about butter, friendship and the art of childhood. Julia and her friend Simca love to cook but have no wish to turn into big, busy people who worry too much and watch too few cartoons. They decide to create a feast for growing and staying young. A playful, scrumptious celebration of the joy of eating,the book celebrates the importance of never completely growing up, and mastering the art of having a good time.

With the start of school around the corner (I have a 2-day training this week !) I have started wearing my mouth guard at night because stress and worry cause me to grind and clench my teeth while I sleep. Right now, I bet kids are wondering and worrying about which teacher they will get in a few weeks. Some will be disappointed, but most will find out that the scary/mean teacher they didn’t want isn’t as bad as they feared. Peter Brown tackles this feeling head on in My Teacher is a Monster.


Bobby thinks his teacher is a monster, but a chance meeting in the park transforms their relationship.  By the time the two separate, Bobby is no longer quite as afraid if Ms. Kirby as he originally was, and the illustrations show how she has morphed from monster to human being.

A random book that pleasantly surprised me was Ninja! by Arree Chung.


True ninjas can overcome all obstacles. And our protagonist, Maxwell, does his best, using his rich fantasy life to share his suggestions for becoming an awesome ninja as he goes on a mission for milk and cookies. Funny and heart-warming, this book celebrates imagination and the love of family. Chung has a website full of fun activities kids can do after reading the book.

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