Archive | May, 2015


17 May


Donalyn Miller has a wonderful post today about books entitled All Who Wander. In it she talks about how books took her places as a kid, moving and her TBR piles. TBR stands for to-be-read.  She is moving and has 12 BOXES of TBRs!

I am going to confess my dirty little TBR secret. I abuse the Multnomah County Library rather shamelessly. I have two library cards: a regular one and a teacher card. The teacher card is like a ticket to heaven. On a regular card you check things out for 3 weeks and can have 15 holds.  On a teacher card you can check things out for 6 weeks and have 40 holds. My holds are always maxed, which is no sin. My dirty secret is this: I check things out and they sit on my shelf for 6 weeks and then I renew them until I cannot renew them any more. or until I finally get around to reading them.

I feel a little guilty about this. I know somewhere in the stacks of a  Multnomah County Library branch, someone might stumble upon a book that should be off my TBR shelf and on to the library’s shelves. Yes, I am keeping someone from discover the treasure I am hoarding. But I can’t help myself.

Ranganathan’s  laws of library science state that

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

By cultivating and maintaining my TBR pile, I am violating the first three of the laws. But I don’t feel guilty enough to stop. And besides. summer is coming. There are only 4 weeks of school left and once that is here, I plan on devouring all the books I can.




14 May

Yesterday, while walking the dogs, a Northern Flicker hopped across the sidewalk less than a meter in front of the girls. The girls, attentively sniffing the grass, barely noticed, but I marveled.


I marveled, too, reading  Fire Birds:  Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed B. Collard.


The photographs captured my attention first, as I saw this book sitting on the shelf of my local public library. Full page photos of fire scenes contrast with close-ups of the birds who help rebuild the forest after the fire.

The opening chapter, “Inferno!”, quickly drew me in. Written in the present tense, it describes a forest fire from the initial strike of lightning to the vast wasteland left behind. It suggests that the forest might not be quite as devastated as it seems. The chapters that follow explain how birds use burn areas. We learn that more than fifteen kinds of birds prefer to nest in burned forests. Here they can find an abundance of food and places for shelter, often in the absence of predators.

 Fire Birds explores the complex  life of a forest after a fire. It contains many features of non-fiction that can be used as models with students including a powerful introduction, a table of contents, index, glossary, text boxes featuring different birds, and interesting headings.

It’s finally here!

13 May

There aren’t a lot of good books about knitting. Oh, there are fantastic pattern and history books, but the quality of novels on a knitting theme is, at best, mediocre.

I have been anxiously awaiting this book, which I first heard  about last year,  Boys Don’t Knit (in Public)  Bu T.S. Easton.


Goodreads Summary:Ben Fletcher must get to grips with his more ‘feminine’ side following an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady and a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso from Waitrose. All a big misunderstanding of course.

To avoid the Young Offenders unit, Ben is ordered to give something back to the community and develop his sense of social alignment. Take up a hobby and keep on the straight and narrow. The hot teacher he likes runs a knitting group so Ben, reluctantly at first, gets ‘stuck in’. Not easy when your dad is a sports fan and thinks Jeremy Clarkson is God. To his surprise, Ben finds that he likes knitting and that he has a mean competitive streak. If he can just keep it all a secret from his mates…and notice that the girl of his dreams, girl-next-door Megan Hooper has a bit of a thing for him…

The book was first published in the UK, where the cover was much brighter


The library finally got a copy and I am planning on spending much of my weekend deep within its pages.


Fresh starts

12 May


A few weeks ago I started 2 knitting projects: a sweater for the OBHR Games and a sweeter for me. Things went wonky with both and I was not feeling really happy about either. I set the OBHR sweater aside so I could think about it for a while. I ripped the other one out and started over. Once I had done that, I knew that was the way to go with the OBHR sweater. So, I ripped it out, too, and started over.

I felt so much relief. I felt like a knitter again, not some sham.

I can’t rip out a school year, but  one of the great things about teaching is that you get to have a fresh start every September. Lessons and units can be fine-tuned. You can push yourself a little more to try something you weren’t comfortable with the year before.

My OLW this year has been shift. There were some things I expected to shift and some things I had hoped would shift.   I feared Fiona wouldn’t be here at this point in the year, but she is. Her body is weak, but her spirit is strong. I asked for a transfer to middle school, hoping to avoid the interview process,  and that didn’t happen. I’ve applied to some jobs, but no word yet. I am working on patience, but I suspect this is a fresh start that just might not happen. If it doesn’t, I will have a fresh start with 4th grade. I jumped into this job just before school began and I started the school year a little off kilter because of the unexpected change. Next year at least, I will start knowing what I am doing.

Family History

11 May

My Aunt Dorothy is the family genealogist. She has traced my ancestors past the first Gillespie’s in my family tree to come to Canada, back through all the people in England and Ireland, into the early 1700’s.

IN his new book, My Family Tree and Me,  Dušan Petričić provides a beautifully simple introduction to the concept of family ancestry.

Unknown-2 Unknown

Front Cover               Back Cover

It uses two stories in one to explore a small boy’s family tree: the boy tells the family story of his father’s side starting from the front of the book, and that of his mother’s side starting from the back of the book. Four previous generations are introduced for each, from his great-great-grandparents to his parents. The grand finale in the center of the book reveals the boy’s entire extended family, shown in one drawing with all the members from both sides identified by their relationship to him.



Along the similar lines is A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, ONe Delicious Treat, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.


This is a story about blackberry fool and how the making of the delicious dessert has changed, and remained the same, over four centuries.


While not exactly a work of history, it is historical fiction and reminded me of the family history project we had the kids do when I last taught 7th grade. This would be a great mentor text for this kind of project because it clearly shows the connection between past and present, what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Both of these books would be excellent introductions to some aspect of family history, whether for a school project or just personal curiosity. Every family has its story to tell.

My favorite mother’s in kidlit

10 May

My mother didn’t read to me but had the foresight to take me to the library. Go, Mom! No mother is perfect, but here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites from childrens & YA books.

Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter Series


Marilla Cuthbert from  Anne of Green Gables


Marmee in  Little Women


Sara from  Sara Plain & Tall


Mama from All of a Kind Family


Hazel Grace’s mom The Fault in Our Stars


Who are your favorites?

BORING? Subversive!

8 May

Meet the Dullards. Their home is boring. Their food is plain. Their lives are monotonous. And Mr. and Mrs. Dullard like it that way.

But their children–Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud–have other ideas. . . .


Mr. & Mrs. Dullard decide to move when their children show a spark of color. Literally. But no matter what they do, the children keep rebelling against the life of dullness their parents have mapped out for them. They refuse to watch the paint dry.


As they are unpacking in their new home, a friendly neighbor stops by with a house warming gift.

“‘Welcome to the neighborhood,’ she said. ‘I baked you an applesauce cake!’
‘Please don’t use exclamation marks in front of our children.'”

This is the sort of humor infused into the book. Some of it might be a little more advanced than the readers who are most likely to pick up this book, but this also make it the sort of picture book that older readers can enjoy as a mentor test.

I really enjoyed Daniel Salmieri’s illustrations which capture the dullness and vibrancy of the Dullard family.

Multiple narrators, parallel stories

7 May

A student in my class started reading  The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt recently.


She came in asking me a lot of questions and I frustrated her because I wouldn’t answer them. I did help her out a bit through. She wasn’t really getting the multiple story line, so we talked about our current class read aloud, Wonder,  and how, having multiple people tell the story gives us more insight.

I told her about reading  All the Light We Cannot See,  in which two stories are told, and, eventually converge.

She finally started to understand what the author was doing. She still had questions I refused to answer, but she felt more confident going forward because she understood what the author was doing and why. She is well into the book now and excited to see how it will all come together.

She had a personal mini lesson in authors craft & structure.

Some new twists on some old guys

6 May

How do you keep history books fresh for kids? How do you present the information na new and engaging way? Jonah Winter and Alan Schroeder have some good ideas.

Schroeder’s new book,  Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z is illustrated by John O’Brien.


As the title promises, this is an alphabet book that sheds some light  on the  key events, people and places in Lincoln’s life. Scattered throughout the book are also quotes by Abraham Lincoln–short, pithy statements that have lasted through the years.This is a very fun and interesting read.


O’Brien’s illustrations really enhance the detailed information.

Jonah Winter’s new book, illustrated by Barry Blitt, is entitled  The Founding Fathers: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America.  That’s a mouthful, isn’t it!


As you might surmise from the title, the book takes a humorous tone while providing lots of facts and figures, quotes, and the good, bad, and ugly character traits of each one. Each Founding Father gets a two-page spread with a full-page portrait (name, sobriquet and dates included) along with a casual, colloquially phrased summary biography and then lots of stats presented briefly and intriguingly: height, weight, political leaning, education, wealth, and religious belief, in addition to hobbies, nickname and position on the Boston Tea Party.


Two wonderful books that kids will certainly enjoy reading because of the excellent information and the way they are formatted.

The aftermath of a restless night

5 May


I am fortunate to be a good sleeper. When I go to bed, I usually fall asleep in mere moments.

Last night was an exception.

I could tell when I went to bed it wouldn’t be quite so easy. My mind wouldn’t turn off.  I tossed and turned. Eventually, fell asleep. But it wasn’t restful. I dreamt. I tossed and turned. My pillow wasn’t right. I was too hot. I was too cold. I tried sleeping on my left, my right, my back, my stomach. On and on. I slept two hours at a stretch, one hour, then awoke and it started all over again.




I am fortunate to be a good sleeper. Tonight, I hope to fall asleep in mere moments.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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