Archive | September, 2014

A work in progress: A Slice of Life Story

30 Sep


They warned me they might show up, but when my principal and her supervisor came to my class to do an observation, I couldn’t help wishing they’d gone elsewhere.

My kids this year have good hearts, but they are stream of consciousness impulsive puppies. Some of them are a lot of work, which is why we have 2 classrooms of 22 instead of 3 classrooms of 29. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve come a long way in the 4 weeks I’ve had them, but a few of them still have a long road ahead.

We were sitting in a circle during reading differentiation time when they came to observe. I have about 15 kids in my group, all of whom are reading at grade level. We were about to begin reading Number the Stars and I was surprised, but pleased, to find to no one had read it before. I was giving them background information about the book. One boy chimed in about the fact that his ancestry was Lakota and how their land had been stolen and turned into Mount Rushmore.  I joke with people that the  kids in my class put their hand up and say “I have a connection” but it is often a very tenuous connection. Here was living proof.

As we looked at the description of Annemarie and Ellen, trying to build a picture of the two girls, we were discussing the words stocky and lanky. We had come to some conclusion about the words and I mentioned that one of the most impulsive boys in the group was lanky and he stood up and mimed a slam dunk. Another boy had to be asked to remove himself from the group until he could participate positively. He did rejoin the group on his own later and did a better job.

Needless to say, I was sweating while my principal and her supervisor  were there. I wonder if they laughed, because there were some really funny things said, too. After they left, the kids wondered why they were there and what they were doing. I told them the truth: they had a new online tool to use for observations and wanted to practice. The funny thing was, the kids thought they were the objects of the observation, which of course they were, but they didn’t see ( or had no idea) that it was a performance observation of a teacher.

It might not have been my best teaching ever, but they got to observe a  slice of my teaching life, warts and all.

A sequel

29 Sep

Very often, I am disappointed by sequels. At best, I find a sequel equal to the first book. I was pleasantly surprised to find Sisters by Raina Telgemeier BETTER than Smile, which was excellent.



Perhaps that’s because it brought back memories of car trips as a child, sharing the backseat with my twin sister, and the love-hate relationships only sisters can have.

The story is centered around a family summer car trip to Colorado, without Dad. embedded into the stories are flashbacks of Raina’s desire for a baby sister and the reality of what having one actually means.Their relationship is rocky and doesn’t improve when a baby brother arrives. It is only once in Colorado that they begin to realize what it means to be a sister and start working on building a better relationship.

A fun, quick read in Telgemeier’s trademark style.

Mixed Media

28 Sep

I love finding really good books about art. Herve Tullet is back with fantastic follow-up to Press Here called


Just as the title suggests, readers are asked to mix up colors, sometimes in very fun ways, such as closing the book and pressing two colors together


or placing your hand on the page and making colors disappear.


Although intended for young readers, not so young readers will also find the book just as fun.

On a more serious note, Emily’s Blue Period, by Cathleen Daly, is about Pablo Picasso and changing family dynamics.


Emily is very crafty and interested in art, especially Pablo Picasso, but when her dad moves out, her life is as mixed up as some of Picasso’s cubist paintings.


“When Picasso was sad for a while,” says Emily, “he only painted in blue. And now I am in my blue period.”

 The book is written in short chapters and  addresses the different stages Emily goes through. When her art teachers assigns a project in which students have to collage what “home” means to them, Emily breaks free of her blues.

Lisa Brown’s illustrations for this book is light and friendly, despite the heaviness of the topics.  An excellent book all around.

Memoir and Memory

26 Sep

In her author’s note at the end of  Brown Girl Dreaming,  Jacqueline Woodson says simply “Memory is strange”.


And  free verse, a form in which Wooodson is very comfortable, seems to be the perfect vehicle for her memoir. Her voice is so clear in my head and so engaging that I couldn’t put the book down, finishing it in one sitting. The book is tender, heart-breaking and inspirational, full of love, family and place.

Place is almost a character here. Although Woodson was born in Ohio in 1963 and spent much of her youth in South Carolina before her family moved to Brooklyn. Each of these places is beautifully evoked and you can see how each had their influence on the burgeoning writer.

As much is this memoir is about writing, it is the parts about listening I find most interesting. There are a series of short, numbered  haikus throughout the book. As Jacqueline and I  moved through the book together , I noticed how they change.

How to Listen #1

Somewhere in my brain

each laugh, tear and lullaby

becomes a memory

How to Listen #2

In the stores downtown

we’re always followed around

just because we’re brown.

How to Listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

The memoir is full of family stories, and variations of family stories, as in the story of Jacqueline’s birth, that different people remember in different ways.

This is a beautiful book I hope you all take the opportunity to read.

It’s raining again

24 Sep

I was happy to see the arrival of the Autumnal Equinox this week. I was overjoyed to see the return of the rain yesterday. Lucy was not as happy.


While arthritic Fiona plods forward, rain or shine, Lucy is a fair-weather basset. Quite frankly she hates the rain. Although she is a native Oregonian, she huddles close to buildings and does her business, quite inconveniently, under bushes to avoid getting wet.

If bassets could tiptoe, I would say she tiptoes along, trying to keep her feet dry, even on a misty sort of Pacific Northwest morning. Meanwhile, my eyes roll back in my head. Fiona remains oblivious to all Lucy’s shenanigans. She is a meat and potatoes sort of girl. Get out, walk, so the business, walk some more, go home and nap.

If I recall correctly, Lucy will come around to the rain. By the time Autumn has become Winter, she will manage to walk normally through most. She might even suffer through cooperating on a short walk in light ran. But when a big storm rolls in, we are all happy to huddle and tiptoe and get back to the comfort of our home.



Building Community: A Slice of Life Story

23 Sep


Week four of school. We’ve been together for 15 days and our community is coming together. I’ve done the obvious teacher things that build community, but I’m thinking today about the more subtle things that help build community. Yesterday I saw a girl really smile for the first time when we celebrated her birthday. I’ve had to have a couple of heart to heart talks with kids about homework mostly, but about a few other things, too. I am an introvert and non-confrontational  by nature, but can have conversations with kids that ‘d never have with adults.

One little girl has been worrying me and I’m bringing her to our school wide CAT team, where we discuss kids who are struggling in some way.    CAT is a new acronym and I can’t remember what it stands for, probably because I am a dog person. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. She has friends and is at grade level in everything but hasn’t been doing her homework. I’ve known he since she was in first grade and this behavior isn’t what I expected. We’ve had a couple of talks and things haven’t improved. I called home and left messages, but Mom hasn’t contacted me. I spoke with her 3rd grade teacher and when I told her about the homework issue, her eyes popped and said that was a red flag. Mom tends to be depressive and this girl is definitely a glass half empty sort of girl. I decided then she was definitely on my CAT list.

She got her homework done this weekend and looked pleased with herself. I made sure she knew I was pleased, too. I think I’m getting her on board, making her feel part of the community. This is just one of the conversations I’ve had, but every one of these builds community because they know someone cares.

Riding the Boundless

22 Sep

Donald Smith drove in the ceremonial last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) on November 7, 1885, at Craigellachie, British Columbia.


The Boundless  by Kenneth Oppel begins at this event, memorialized forever in the picture above, and turns history on its head.

hi res cover

The young boy behind Donald Smith (the man holding the sledgehammer) is the main character of this new version of the story of a trip across Canada that includes sasquatches, muskeg hags, a circus troupe and murder!

The eponymous Boundless is an 11-kilometer long train on its maiden voyage across Canada. Oppel pulls from all kinds of Canadian mythology making this an especially enjoyable read for me, but it shouldn’t be off-putting to non-Canadians. Oppel did extensive research about the history of trains and you can read some of it and see pictures that inspired his descriptions on Oppel’s blog.

The main character, Will Everett is the son of a railroad laborer. When his father saves the life of Cornelius Van Horne, president of the CPR, their lives change forever. Van Horne promotes Mr. Everett and when we meet them again, his dad is in charge of the Boundless’ maiden voyage and they are on their way to British Columbia where Mr. Everett will head Van Horne’s shipping venture to the Orient.

The Boundless gives us real insight to the different classes on the train and the lives of the train laborers.  At first, i found his lack of confidence irritating, but eventually, I realized that Willis uncomfortable at the rapid change of his circumstances and doesn’t really know where he fits in. He longs for adventure and finds it, and his place, on the Boundless.

This isn’t Oppel’s best story ever, but it is a good, faced-paced, action-filled read.

A Delightful Read

21 Sep


What a wonderful read! Dana Alison Levy has updated the traditional family story, introducing us to the Family Fletcher: two dads and four adopted boys, all of different backgrounds. It is an all male world and follows the family through one year, from the first day of school to the last. We see them on Family Night, Hallowe’en, camping and dealing with a grumpy neighbor.

Families have lumps and bumps and this one also has cat barf, turtle pee and lots of boy noise. I laughed out loud more than once and came to love this family. Each boy has his own challenges to face and they aren’t always resolved the way each boy hopes, as often happens on the real world. The dads tell the box, “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, to not be an expert at everything.”

The book had the same feel of the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall. Although I think this book might be a longshot for a Newbery Award, I think it is more likely to win a Stonewall Award or at least end up on the Children’s Notable.


19 Sep

Last year, one of my ESL students made my jaw drop when she gave her oral presentation on Frida Kahlo. She was a quiet, shy student and not really confident in her abilities. She’d had a little trouble getting started on her research, but when she and I sat together and went on a virtual tour of Kahlo’s Casa Azul she was inspired and her speech was one of the best I saw in the entire 4th grade.

Two new books have come out about Frida Kahlo, for different audiences and reading levels.


Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales brings Frida to life with puppets.  The simple bilingual book celebrates Frida’s creativity and joie de vivre. It is not a biography, but a celebration. Readers will enjoy examine the details on each page. This is an excellent book to introduce Frida to kids.

Older readers can learn more details about Kahlo, and her relationship with Diego Rivera in Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef.


This book portrays the passionate and complex relationship between the two in language suited to a middle school audience. Primary sources enhance the text. Paintings are reproduced at the end of the book, rather than in the context in which they are discussed. back matter includes a timeline, endnotes, bibliography and index.


Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15th and will end on October 15th.

Some Non-fiction news

18 Sep

Just guess who has been selected to be a YA Nonfiction round 2 judge for the 2014 Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards  ME!


The CYBILS, as they are commonly known have a mission:

to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

Round 1 judges have to read all the nominated titles in their category and create a list of finalists. Round 2 judges read all the finalist tiles and come to consensus on a winner. I thought my first time through, I’d prefer to be a second round judge because I thought it might be a better place to get my feet wet.

If you have read a children’s or young adult book this year that you really loved, you can nominate it. Public nominations run from Oct. 1-15 every year. The form will be live at at 12:00 a.m. PST on October 1. They’ve tried to make the form mobile-friendly, so you can use your phone to nominate if you prefer.

I’ve been reading 2 YA NF books recently, one of which I finally finished last night. I’m not sure if I am allowed to blog about them or not (I haven’t read the fine print yet) but let me recommend them to you with few words.


The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming is a look at the end of the Romanov dynasty in Russia.



Babe Conquers the World by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace is a biography of Babe Didrickson Zaharias.



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