Archive | July, 2015

Taking a stand

30 Jul


In She Takes a Stand: 16 Fearless Activists who have Changed the World author Michael Elsohn Ross has written an inspiring collection of short biographies  featuring 16 contemporary and historical women from around the world who have advocated for change around issues of injustice in its many guises.

Each chapter tells the story of one activist who passionately fought for equal rights at great personal cost. Causes included the rights of girls and women for equal access to the same liberties as men (to vote, for birth control, for education, for safety), to stop global crony capitalism, to support worker’s rights and many others.

This book is designed for slightly older readers. The text is set up fairly traditionally and each chapter has one black and white photo of its subject. This might be off-putting to someone who stumble sup on this book on the shelves but budding activists and lovers of non-fiction will enjoy the book if they take it off the shelf. Ross explains things clearly, with an emphasis on childhood details, motivations, and life turning points.

The book includes related sidebars, a bibliography, source notes, and a list of activist organizations.

Reflections on the passing of my dad

28 Jul

My dad passed away on Saturday.


It’s been a crazy few days finding a cheap but well-timed flight to Canada, and making arrangements for my dogs. I am amazed and awed by all the people who offered some help, or wanted to but would be out-of-town. I am also thankful that I made it to 50 before losing a parent. So many of my peers didn’t.

In the same way that weddings make people think of romance, funerals make me reflective. Whether in words or deeds, I learned a lot from my dad and I’d like to share some of his lessons with you.

1. You can fix almost anything.  My dad had an amazing workroom. It was full of cool tools. I’m sure he knew this, but I loved to go in there and touch stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I grew up watching my dad fix almost everything around the house. I don’t think I ever saw a repairman come to the house when I was a kid. My dad built a playhouse for my twin sister and I and installed a working phone system.I don’t possess anywhere near his level of skill,  because of his example I have changed my own faucets, fixed my toilet,  installed new lighting systems and, just last week, repaired the handle I broke off my stove. I rely on Youtube for much of the instruction, but the inspiration is purely from my father.

2. Language is beautiful. When he heard people using foul languageI remember my dad saying, “There are so many beautiful words n the English language, why would you choose an ugly one?”. That’s not to say he didn’t curse or get angry. But I have funny memories of him calling people “turkey” in the 70’s and reading the poetry of Robert Burns. Maybe that’s where I get all this from.

3. History is cool.  Growing up, family vacation usually meant camping and visiting places of historical significance: Old Fort Henry, the Royal Ontario Museum, Quebec City, the historic jail in Goderich, any pioneer village. I’ve had my picture taken near a lot of cannons.I remember when he dropped me off for the first time at the University of Toronto and he saw the campus of Victoria College, he was impressed by the sense of history that was there. Maybe all this is part of why I majored in history.

4. Education is important. My dad never finished high school. That was normal for his time. But he read a lot and instilled in use the sense that doing well in school was important. Once,  inspired by a friend who got money for god grades, my twin sister and I suggested this to my parents. We were told that we wouldn’t be paid for grades, but were expected to do our best. If our best was an A, great. If it was a B or C great, as long as we worked as hard as we could. Even into grade 13, my parents went to back to school nights and conferences. In 1969, my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedia and had them into the new millennium. We learned to use them to look up anything we needed to know, whether for school, or because we were watching a movie and there was a reference to something from history that left us wondering. We Googled before it was Googling.

5. Offer help to those who need it.  My dad was a Freemason and the Master of his lodge. He often left early so he could drive and pick up an elderly gentleman who no longer drove. It wasn’t convenient for Dad, but it was worth it.

6. Be on time and have a sense of humor. I have funny memories of getting ready to go places. If the plan was to leave by 7:00, Dad, Andrea and I might be in the car early, ready to go and Mom would walk out the door right at 7:00. We knew this, but, we’d giggle and ask Dad to honk, to hurry her up. Sometimes he’d oblige us. Mom was very patient with us and Dad knew just how far he could take that joke.

7. Stand at attention when you hear the bagpipes. Gillespie is a Scottish surname and we learned to love the skirl of the bagpipe. My Dad loved all kinds of music, in addition to bagpipe music. He loved Linda Ronstadt. But I also learned about Nina Simone and classical music from Dad. He had an amazing record collection. When I was at the University of Toronto, he would sometimes ask me to go to Sam the Record Man to bring back something particular. I got to explore parts of that store I might not have ventured into on my own and discovered some things I might not have otherwise.

There’s more I could write, but these are some of the things that come to mind first. Dad’s funeral is on Saturday and there will be some Linda Ronstadt some Robbie Burns to send him off.


27 Jul

Another fantastic ARC I got at the ALA conference was The Marvels by Brian Selznick!!!


Unlike The Invention of Hugo Cabret and  Wonderstruck, where the pages of illustration alternate with the text, in The Marvels,  Selznick begins with 400 pages of a story told through illustration alone. This story follows five generations of a legendary family of actors, beginning with young Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck.  It is followed by about 200 pages of text which centers on a boy in 1990 who runs away from school to his estranged uncle’s enigmatic London house. Then there are 50 more pages of illustration. The two stories seem to be unrelated, but are brought together in the brief, but powerful conclusion.

The story was inspired by Selznick’s visit to the Dennis Severs’ House in London and Selznick provides an explanation about this strange inspiration in the Afterword.

I am excited that I have this copy that I can out on the shelf of my new classroom in September.

Ah, summer!

24 Jul


To be honest, I don’t even remember picking up the ARC of Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm. But, as I was looking through the now organized box of ARCs I got in San Francisco, this one surprised me. How did it get there? I have no idea, but I ma sure glad it made it home.

Scholastic’s summary of this graphic novel is very brief: From the groundbreaking and award-winning sister-brother team behind Babymouse comes a middle-grade, semi-autobiographical graphic novel.

Following the lives of kids whose older brother’s delinquent behavior has thrown their family into chaos, Sunny Side Up is at once a compelling “problem” story and a love letter to the comic books that help the protagonist make sense of her world.

We meet 10-year-old Sunny as she arrives at the airport in Florida in 1976.  Although a summer in Florida sounds like fun, Sunny is spending it with her grandfather in his retirement community while her parents deal with her older brother’s substance abuse problem that they are trying to keep secret. Fortunately for Sunny, she befriends Buzz and together they explore the world through comic books. And talking with her grandfather and Buzz helps Sunny deal with the problems that lead to her trip to Florida.

This book deals with some tough issues, but is done in a very appropriate way for the target audience (grades 3 and up). As always, Holm & Holm have created a book that is more serious than Babymouse or  Squish , but just as endearing and readable.

I heart A. S. King!

23 Jul

One of my big scores at the ALA conference was an arc of A. S. King’s new novel  I Crawl Through It.


This is what I will be up to today. Crawling through its pages and loving every minute of it. It’s received a number of starred reviews already, from VOYA, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Here’s what all the buzz is about:

Publisher’s Summary: Four teenagers are on the verge of exploding. The anxieties they face at every turn have nearly pushed them to the point of surrender: senseless high-stakes testing, the lingering damage of past trauma, the buried grief and guilt of tragic loss. They are desperate to cope, but no one is listening.

So they will lie. They will split in two. They will turn inside out. They will even build an invisible helicopter to fly themselves far away…but nothing releases the pressure. Because, as they discover, the only way to truly escape their world is to fly right into it.

The genius of acclaimed author A.S. King reaches new heights in this groundbreaking work of surrealist fiction; it will mesmerize readers with its deeply affecting exploration of how we crawl through traumatic experience-and find the way out.

Andrew Smith said “I Crawl Through It proves that A.S. King is one of the most innovative and talented novelists of our time. This is King’s masterpiece–a brilliant, paranoid, poetic, funny, and at times overwhelmingly sad literary cocktail of absinthe and Adderall. What a trip!”

Today is going to be an excellent day.


Peril and Perseverance

22 Jul

As most of you know, I will be moving to a new school in the Fall, teaching 6th grade in a program for the highly gifted. This is quite a shift from teaching 4th grade at a Title I school, but I am excited about the challenge and adventure this new job presents.

In two weeks, I will go to the first of 3 workshops I need to attend before school begins. Although this will be my first official foray back into middle school  I have been thinking about it. As with any grade change, it is important to know what to expect in terms of curriculum, but also in terms of what kids should be able to do.

A friend of mine has a daughter who was in 6th grade last year at Jackson Middle School.. She told me throughout the year about the longterm Biomes project her daughter was doing in class. It was complex and multifaceted, culminating in fiction and non-fiction writing. Her teacher was so impressed with the student’s results, he got in touch with a local publisher and had his students’ work published. Alive and Well. Mostly. is a collection of the fiction that these 6th graders wrote.


From the Publisher: Alive and Well. Mostly. Animal Tales of Peril and Perseverance for Young Readers by Young Writers, illustrated by Colin Adams and edited by David A. Wierth is a collection of imaginative short stories about animals in their native biomes. Migrate through the ocean with an adventurous narwhal, defeat a badger army with the king of the owls, befriend a firefly with a vengeful howler monkey, or navigate complex social dynamics with an arctic wolf. Each story is sure to draw you in: friendship, family, predators, betrayal–this book has it all.

As I read the first story, I laughed, because I could picture the writer. And this feeling continued throughout the book. These are excellent stories, written by 11 and 12 year olds. Their stories reflect their age, but they also reflect a lot of research and editing. The result is an excellent volume that I will add to my classroom library once I get around to setting it up.

You can find out a little more about it on the publisher’s website. If you have a young person who loves to write, they might enjoy reading this delightful collection, and it might inspire them to write their own stories.

2015 Oregon Basset Hound Games

21 Jul

July brings the dog days of summer. Literally. The Oregon Basset Hound Games is always held on the third Sunday in July.

The planning team was a little short-handed this year and the weather was hot, which Oregonians fear and loathe, but the show must go on, and it did with gusto.


As always, the Games opened with the limbo. Although bassets are low riders, their tails prove to be their downfall in this event.


There are several highlights. Everyone  loves the costume contest. Everyone of the two-leggers that is; the results are inconclusive for the four-leggers.


The poor lithe dalmatian in the middle kept trying to remove her hat. Others were more cooperative.





Aside from their sad faces and stubbornness, basset hounds are infamous for two things: laziness and howling. Naturally, there is a Marathon Napping contest.


IMG_1983 IMG_1984 IMG_1985 IMG_1986 IMG_1987 IMG_1988

Some years, there seem to be more barkers than howlers. This was not one of them.

My favorite event is the last event: Synchronized Swimming. The concept is simple. Lead your basset to the kiddie pool. Convince him/her to get all four paws in the pool. Get out on the other side and cross the finish line. Unfortunately, base hounds hate water and most refuse to get into the pool. Watching the owners try to convince their dog to get on the pool is hilarious.





My Reading Log

20 Jul

I filled up my reading log this week. I started this one in June 2011. Four years worth of reading.

IMG_1999  IMG_2000

I don’t make annotations, I just record the title and author.  The pictures are a bit fuzzy, but the first book is The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker and the last one is 5 to 1  by Holly Bodger.

There are 980 books listed.

People keep track of their in different ways. Some people like to write a description and/or rate the book.Some keep track online in either something of their own creation, or on a site like Goodreads.

I like using a Moleskine. Since I fit four years worth of books into this one, it seems to be the right size. I have a smaller one that I am using to lee track of my Morris reading, and I am making annotations about those books in that one.

Two years ago, I shared my reading log in a speech I gave, modeling the speech we were asking our 4th graders to do. There was an avid reader in that group and she asked to see my notebook. She caressed the pages as if it were a treasure trove, which, in a way, it is. She asked for one for Christmas and started keeping her own log.

The funny thing is, although I don’t write anything other than the title & author, as I peruse the pages, I remember each book. And that is all I hoped to accomplish.



The Halfway Mark

19 Jul

We’ve hit the halfway point in summer.Five weeks of summer vacation have passed, there are only five more to go.

That got me thinking about this A. A. Milne poem I loved as a kid.

Halfway Down

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where i sit.
there isn’t any
other stair
quite like
i’m not at the bottom,
i’m not at the top;
so this is the stair
I always

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else

It comes from When We Were Very Young a book my Grandma Gillespie gave my sister and I and there is just something about that poem, and the illustration by Ernest Shepard, that spoke to my heart. And still does.


There is a contentment there, which I am feeling these days. My summer routines are clearly established. My pace of life has slowed “And all sorts of funny thoughts / Run round my head”.

The thing about this second half is that, in about two and a half weeks, I begin going back. I have my first back to school meetings on August 6th and  7th.

But I’m not ready to think too hard about August yet. I’ll just leave you with this.

Fish in a Tree…meh

17 Jul

Albert Einstein is purported to have said “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” There is no actual evidence that he said it.

This quote, regardless of its origin, is the source of the title of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s newest book.


Although this book seems to have been given a lot of praise, I found it to be a rather mediocre “issue book”.

Ally has moved around a lot and attended a lot of schools. She has mostly learned how to hide her learning disability. When her teacher goes on maternity leave the substitute is the one teacher who can see her potential. Aside from the lifesaving teacher trope, we also encounter the brainiac, the mean snobby girl, and the encouraging friend. I also felt that, although Ally is supposed to be in 6th grade, the characters seemed younger.

So, I clearly didn’t love this book.  A lot of other people do. I leave it ti you to make up your own mind.

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