Archive | June, 2015

John James Audubon: Fiction/Non-fiction Pairings

19 Jun

I just got my hands on This Strange Wilderness:The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain.



John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, was published in 1838, a mere 32 years after the  Lewis and Clark expedition  returned from their cross-country journey. I think we forget how challenging it must have been for Audubon to produce his masterpiece. Plain’s book is an excellent biography of the artist and naturalist, giving us an idea of the personal tragedies he suffered  and the challenges he faced as he roamed the country to paint the 489 pictures of The Birds of America. The book includes many full-page, full-color interior illustrations.

While reading This Strange Wilderness,  I got thinking about books n which John James Audubon plays a role. The first one that came to mind was one of this year’s OBOB books, A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole.


Celeste, a mouse longing for a real home, becomes a source of inspiration to teenaged Joseph, assistant to the artist and naturalist John James Audubon, at a New Orleans, Louisiana, plantation in 1821.

Audubon’s The Birds of America  plays a significant role in Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now.


As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends, an abusive father, and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him until he finds an ally in Lil Spicer–a fiery young lady. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage.



Lucy is 9 today

18 Jun

It is Lucy’s 9th birthday. That means she’s been with me for 5 years. My how time has flown. If you don’t remember it, you can read a little bit about Lucy’s story.


Lucy is a snuggler and adjusts her blankets and bedding for maximum comfort. She loves to sleep pressed up against me.

I did something to my back and spent much of yesterday with my heating pad, Lucy and Fiona snuggled beside me. I am much better today, but I am still using the heating pad. This is an excuse to read and knit. I have a couple of dog related books on my shelf right now.


In Dan Gemeinhart’s debut novel, a boy named Mark, tired of being sick with cancer, conceives a plan to climb Mount Rainier, and runs away from home with his dog, Beau–but with over two hundred miles between him and his goal, and only anger at his situation to drive him on nothing will be easy, and only his best friend, Jessie, suspects where he is heading.


A Handful of Stars is Cynthia Lord’s latest. When her blind dog slips his collar, twelve-year old Lily meets Salma Santiago, a young Hispanic girl whose migrant family are in Maine for the blueberry-picking season, and, based partly on their mutual love of dogs, the two forge a friendship while painting bee boxes for Lily’s grandfather–but as the Blueberry Queen pageant approaches Lily and Selma are confronted with some of the hard truths of prejudice and migrant life.

My summer reading program

17 Jun

The summer reading program is in full swing at my local library. I stopped by yesterday afternoon to pick up my holds. I was actually  on my way to the dentist for a check up, so I didn’t linger and browse the shelves, but the library was busy. Here are the things I picked up:


The Skunk  written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell Let me just say this: Waiting for Godot for the primary set. You should read this.   Unknown-1

Fifeen Dogs  by André Alexis. Publisher’s Summary: And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks. André Alexis’s contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.   Unknown-2

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb. I’ve heard good buzz about this one. On Moonpenny Island, eleven-year-old Flor O’Dell experiences a series of life changes after her best friend’s sent away to a private school. And, finally… Unknown-3

Paper Things  by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. When forced to choose between staying with her guardian and being with her big brother, Ari chose her big brother. There’s just one problem—Gage doesn’t actually have a place to live. I have a pile of books to read and don’t know when I will get to these. Fortunately, I have two and a half months stretching out ahead of me.

Summer Vacation,Day1: The Recovery Phase

16 Jun


The kids finished Friday. We sent them off in a flurry of bubbles as the buses pulled away.We teachers were excited and happy, but new our vacation didn’t start yet. We had to come back on Monday to clean up and check-out.

Saturday all I wanted to do was sleep.  My eyes felt heavy all day. I took two 20 minute naps and went to bed early that evening. When  awoke Sunday morning, I felt much more alert.

Yesterday, we revived a tradition from many years ago and met for breakfast at Elmer’s before beginning our summer cleaning. The breakfast was huge and made it possible to work through lunch because i was not hungry. I packed and labeled 19 boxes to ship to my new school, collected 2 boxes to donate to new teachers and brought 4 boxes home. I took down the last bulletin board and removed all the staples. I filled two garbage bags and both recycling boxes.

One by one, my teammates came in to say they had finished and were checking out until I was alone in Blue Hall.  By the time I was ready to check out at 2:30, I was sweaty and exhausted. My back ached, my muscles hurt and my feet throbbed.

And then I was gone.

I got home and drank about 6 glasses of water and ate a salad for dinner. I had a shower then went to bed early, again.  Stretching out under the covers felt like a little bit of heaven.

I woke up this morning a little sore in places, but not as much as I expected to be.

I guess, I am already in recovery mode.

The Pleasure of Reading Fast and Short by Donalyn Miller

15 Jun

Today I am packing up my classroom, so, rather than writing, I am reposting an excellent article by Donalyn Miller.

Nerdy Book Club

We are moving and most of our books are packed. Spending every waking moment cleaning and packing limits my reading time, and influences my reading habits. I have rediscovered a new appreciation for the short texts that I subscribe to and regularly read. Whether it’s a news article about the American Southwest’s water shortage or a thought-provoking blog post about teaching and parenting, I find daily information and edification from reading short texts—a wonderful supplement to my reading life. Here are my current favorite sources for short texts and online reading.

A News Letter from the Desk of Austin Kleon: Austin Kleon is a poet, artist, and author of two books about fostering creativity and promoting yourself—Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! Each Friday, he publishes a weekly newsletter that collects random bits of inspiration and fascination he discovers such as documentaries, interviews with artists, photographs, and…

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Audiobook Heaven

14 Jun

I don’t think I mentioned that I listened to Echo  by Pam Muñoz Ryan in the car. The audiobook is amazing because there is music. Harmonica music. Piano music. Orchestral music. It is truly a treat for the ears.

Now, I am listening to Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai.


I think I would have liked reading the book, but listening is amazing because the reader, Lulu Lam, reads the Vietnamese in perfect Vietnamese and she also reads some of the English parts with a Vietnamese accent. It feels natural when you listen.

Publisher’s Summary:A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

If you are looking for some good road trip books to listen to, you should give these two a try.

From A to Z

12 Jun

Today is the last day of school for kids. Teachers have to go back on Monday, but, this is really the last day.

Today the building will be full of noise and excitement. Tomorrow, and for the next two and a half months, it will be mostly quiet and empty.



We have an assembly at 9, where awards will be given out. Before we go, I will give my ids my gift to them. It is a tradition I had when I last taught fourth grade and I revived it this year. I have written an alphabet book for the class entitled , F is for Fourth Grade.  The kids always think it will be their names in alphabetical order, but it isn’t. Each letter describes a personal quality, then I say which kid best described that quality. Having only 23 kids this year, I had a few letters left over, so I gave them some advice. Here are the first and last pages of my A to Z book.


is for Articulate 

Articulate means “using language easily and fluidly”.

Vincent is an articulate student. He thinks before he speaks and uses interesting words in his sentences. Vincent has a good vocabulary.


is for


 A zealous person is eager and passionate about something.

Endeavour to be a zealous student and friend. Give 100% to all you do. Be eager about your learning and faithful in your friendships.



11 Jun

As a teacher I like to think that the influence I have had on my students echoes down through the years. Merriam-Webster defines “echo” this way:

: a sound that is a copy of another sound and that is produced when sound waves bounce off a surface (such as a wall)

: something (such as a feature or quality) that repeats or resembles something else

: something that is similar to something that happened or existed before

In Echo,  Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book, I think we have a Newbery contender.


The eponymous echo is something that is similar to something that happened or existed before. This is the story of kids facing hardships and how they manage to overcome them. It is about the power of music.

Publisher’s summary: Lost and alone in the forbidden Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. How their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

The book is set from the early 30’s Germany and stretches through WWII. The harmonica travels through the lives of our protagonists, offering solace and hope. There are moments of heartache and worry for the reader, but it all wraps up as nicely as you hope it would.


Water footprints

10 Jun


Our first heat wave of the year seems to have broken and we are on our way to more normal temperatures for early June. I can’t tell you how thankful I am. Fiona was drinking a lot more and I was awoken through the night all week as she lapped up water in the middle of the night. The tomato plants I just potted needed extra watering. I let the kids drink at will in my classroom and more water bottles appeared on desks.

This morning, the air is cool and fresh as I air out the house and share with you this way cool book:


Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Products, by Stephen Leahy, is an amazing collection of info graphics that tell just what the title says. The book gives ab overview of the world’s water situation in the chapter entitled “The Big Picture”. Subsequent chapters focus on specific areas of water usage: home, food production, farming and manufacturing.

I am wearing a different school t-shirt everyday this week. Here are some shocking stats about t-shirts


As much as I hate polyester, should I give up the cotton tees I love so much? And the food stats might make you think twice about what you eat.

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 This is an excellent book for focusing on Common Core standards that emphasize the integration of text and graphics in both reading and writing.

Wrapping up

9 Jun


Twice last week, people came into my room to talk to me and said something along the lines of, “Wow. You’ve already started packing up.”

Twice I had to explain that, in fact, I hadn’t. I’m just a minimalist when it comes to decorating. Maybe they said that because they know I’m leaving. Maybe it was because the room and bulletin board next to me is a riot of color and inspirational posters. I only had a few charts up, but they were charts I actually used.

Since then, I have taken down charts and begun packing boxes.  I am acting, in many ways,  as though this were the end of any old school year. I am packing things up slowly, ticking things off the to do list. I know I am changing schools and I am actually very excited about next year. But, I am essentially in denial. I am excited about next year, but not thinking about the end of this one.

I hate goodbyes, but I  love this song. How strange, the change from major to minor. Indeed.

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