Archive | September, 2015

On my radar

30 Sep

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My “to be read” pile is an every changing collection.

These days, my Morris pile of “to be reads” is very small. The Morris “to discuss” piles is shrinking and the “nominations” pile has become two piles.

The other shelves in my house also shift continually, but there are a couple I am currently keeping near the top. I hope to get to them soon. Here are my top three at the moment.

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Publisher’s Summary:Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big? Delve into this lush, unforgettable tale in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and The Rats of NIMH, from the author of the New York Times bestselling Someday.

Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, refusing to listen to their elders, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from…a giant.

But Peter is a Miniature Giant. They’ve always been told that a Miniature Giant is nothing but a Future Giant, but this one just isn’t quite as big or as scary as the other Giants. Peter has a dream of his own, as well as memories to escape. He is overwhelmed with sadness, and a summer with his new unlikely friends Firefly and Cricket might be just what he needs. Can these friends’ dreams help them overcome the past?

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Publisher’s Summary: The author of OPENLY STRAIGHT returns with an epic road trip involving family history, gay history, the girlfriend our hero can’t have, the grandfather he never knew, and the Porcupine of Truth.

Carson Smith is resigned to spending his summer in Billings, Montana, helping his mom take care of his father, a dying alcoholic he doesn’t really know. Then he meets Aisha Stinson, a beautiful girl who has run away from her difficult family, and Pastor John Logan, who’s long held a secret regarding Carson’s grandfather, who disappeared without warning or explanation thirty years before. Together, Carson and Aisha embark on an epic road trip to find the answers that might save Carson’s dad, restore his fragmented family, and discover the “Porcupine of Truth” in all of their lives.

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Publisher’s Summary:In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the LeningradSymphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a masterwork thrillingly told and impeccably researched by National Book Award–winning author M. T. Anderson.

Stamina and Heart: A Slice of Life Story

29 Sep

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I was at the beach this weekend with my friends and laughed hard as we swapped stories from our classrooms.

I acted out how I talk to the kids about my heart books and getting to the heart of their stories by gently hitting my chest with fist, in that “mea culpa” motion. I even did that at Back to School Night and the parents nodded as if they understood.  One of my beach friends asked me if I ever got bruised. Not yet, but I am monitoring it these days, now that it is on my radar.

In class we are working on building our writing stamina. I have really great kids who work hard, but a few still haven’t figured out that writing time means we write the WHOLE time, not just for a bit, then pick up a book. They are writing longer and better after a few weeks of writer’s workshop.

Apparently, I need to work on my stamina, too.

Back to School Night was Thursday evening and it went well. I had to get up Friday morning, drop the dogs at Sniff Dog Hotel, then drive to the beach for the retreat. I got up just fine, because I am a morning person, but I just couldn’t get it together. Somehow, morning person me ended up arriving an hour late to the 9 a.m. meeting. I felt as though I had a hangover…did I get dehydrated because I sweat so much at Back to School Night? I felt better after lunch, where I drank a lot of water and did better at the afternoon portion of our meeting.

When evening rolled around, some former colleagues arrived and we had dinner together and spent a little time on the beach where the bonfire we’d hoped for had been canceled due to a fire ban. I had a lovely room with a balcony & fireplace overlooking the beach so I invited people back.

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I was alright at first, conversing with my friends. But then it caught up to me. Instead of sitting on my bed, I found myself laying down. My eyes were closed but I was trying hard to follow the conversation. Eventually I heard someone say “We should go. Adrienne is tired.”.

I guess I need to work on my stamina, too.

Happy Banned Books Week!

27 Sep

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Banned Books Week (BBW) is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2015 celebration will be held Sept. 27-Oct. 3. BBW was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. There were 311 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2014, and many more go unreported.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2014 were:

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian By Sherman Alexie Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Source: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Why Challenged: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence, depictions of bullying

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Persepolis By Marjane Satrapi Pantheon Books/Knopf Doubleday Source: Pantheon Books/Knopf Doubleday Why Challenged: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

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The Bluest Eye By Toni Morrison Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Why Challenged: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

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The Kite Runner By Khaled Hosseini Bloomsbury Publishing Source: Bloomsbury Publishing Why Challenged: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower By Stephen Chbosky MTV Books/Simon & Schuster Source: MTV Books/Simon & Schuster Why Challenged: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

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Drama By Raina Telgemeier Graphix/Scholastic Source: Graphix/Scholastic Why Challenged: sexually explicit

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Chinese Handcuffs By Chris Crutcher Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Source: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Why Challenged: depiction of incest, rape, animal torture, teen drug use, breaking and entering, illegal use of a video camera, profanity directed to a school principal, and graphic sexual references

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The Giver By Lois Lowry HMH Books for Young Readers Source: HMH Books for Young Readers Why Challenged: depictions of adolescent drug use, suicide, and lethal injections

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The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros Vintage/Knopf Doubleday Source: Vintage/Knopf Doubleday Why Challenged: mature content, social issues

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Looking for Alaska By John Green Dutton Books/Penguin Random House Source: Dutton Books/Penguin Random House Why Challenged: Sexual content, inappropriate/graphic language

 

I survived BTSN

25 Sep

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Back to school night is over! It was a full house and reactions were positive, even though I’m sure I looked a fool talking super fast and sweating like a roasting pig. Parents were nodding while I was talking and laughing at the appropriate place.  Many came up to me afterwards to tell me how much their child loved me already.

I don’t say that to toot my own horn. I have been teaching my heart out these last few weeks and then I send them of to another class. It is tougher to build rapport with students in middle school because we see them for such a short time. I guess that is one of many wonderful perks of being the writing teacher: I can get to know my kids through their writing even if we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.

I had a moment yesterday during class that almost brought me to tears. I shared this with some parents who  lingered after my presentation to talk. I told them that their son almost made me cry yesterday. They looked shocked and I chuckled. I told them that the kids were working hard, trying to write 4 different leads to the “seed idea” they’d chosen to take to publication. I looked up for a moment and saw their son, standing at the poster we’d made during our mini-lesson, really analyzing what it said. Then he turned, went back to his seat, and continued writing. I almost wept. It was a small moment, but it let me know that the kids were hearing what I was saying and our posters weren’t just decorative.

It was a good way to end a long night.

 

Top 10 Reasons to Join Us in our October Graphic Novel Celebration!

24 Sep

Let’s celebrate GRAPHIC NOVELS.

Nerdy Book Club

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Are your graphic novel book bins always empty?  Are your students begging you for more titles?  Are you always looking for new graphic novel titles?   Do you use them in the classroom to teach craft, structure and comprehension?  Do you love the energy they bring to the classroom?  If so, this event is for you!   Throughout the month of October, Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading; Alyson Beecher of KidLit Frenzy; and Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan of Assessment in Perspective will be hosting a Graphic Novel Celebration!  

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Each Thursday in October each of us will be blogging about graphic novels and the authors of graphic novels.  We will read and post about graphic novels so we can share titles and ideas.  On November 1, 2015 at 8:00 EST, we will culminate this celebration with a Twitter Chat featuring

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What do you call it?: A Slice of Life Story

22 Sep

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Two weeks before teachers had to go back to school, the middle school humanities teachers had a 4 day writing workshop put on my TCRWP. I can honestly say that it was one of the best professional development events I have ever participated in. The middle schools have adopted the writing Units of Study and my 6th grade PLC (professional learning community) is currently implementing the first 6th grade unit. But we are left with a burning question:

WRITER’S WORKSHOP OR WRITERS’ WORKSHOP?

I was wrestling with this dilemma on day when a teacher came in and asked me that very question. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone.

What do you call it? When I say it, it makes no difference. I can see WRITER’S WORKSHOP because each kid is working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I can also see a case for WRITERS’ WORKSHOP because it is a group of writers simultaneously working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I get around it by writing WRITING WORKSHOP on the board, but saying WRITERS WORKSHOP aloud and letting kids insert the apostrophe wherever their minds want to.

So, I would love to know: what do you call it?

A Smart and Spunky Heroine

21 Sep

Six years ago, I met Calpurnia Tate in Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

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And then she was gone. Not forgotten, but off my radar.

I met her again this week in The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate.

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There wasn’t a huge conflict driving the plot forward, but Callie’s episodic adventures really give you  feel for what it was like for girls who really wanted to pursue an education, let alone a scientific education, at the beginning of the last century.  I wonder if there will be third book, in which Callie actually gets to go to college. I certainly hope so. She has the brains, spunk and determination to get there.

Goodreads Summary: Callie Vee, Travis, Granddaddy, and the whole Tate clan are back in this charming follow-up to Newbery Honor–winner The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

Callie’s younger brother Travis keeps bringing home strays. And Callie has her hands full keeping the animals—Travis included—away from her mother’s critical eye.

When a storm blows change into town in the form of a visiting veterinarian, Callie discovers a life and a vocation she desperately wants. But with societal expectations as they are, she will need all her wits and courage to realize her dreams.

Whether it’s wrangling a rogue armadillo or stray dog, a guileless younger brother or standoffish cousin, the trials and tribulations of Callie Vee will have readers cheering for this most endearing heroine

Fortunately, Kelly’s writing is wonderful and she creates a story full of heart, a scientific Anne of Green Gables. The narration has the gentle pace of storytelling on a Texas porch.

An excellent read for middle grade students in general, and for girls in particular.

 

Straddling two worlds

20 Sep

The only library book I have ever lost and had to pay for was Margarita Engle’s The Firefly Letters. 

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I think I accidentally packed it into a box of books I was giving to Goodwill. I paid for the book, hoping someone at Goodwill would encounter it and return it to the library, but no one ever did. I hope whoever found it enjoyed it as much as I did and discovered a new writer.

I have read just about every book Engle has written because I know I am sure to get something a little different from what everyone else is writing, novels in verse focusing on the history of Cuba, picture books or novels with a Cuban or Latino connection.

Her latest book, Enchanted Air, follows that pattern, but adds a new twist. It is a poetic memoir of Margarita’s childhood growing up as a child of two cultures, United States and Cuba, during the Cold War.

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Goodreads Summary:Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

I love novels in verse and Engle seems to be a master of this genre. Her poems capture the angst of growing up, feeling torn between two countries, longing for adventure and travel, not always fitting in, confusion over politics and culture clashes, the beauty of Cuba and America. Things that a lot of kids feel , though maybe in a different way. My class this year is made up f children who are predominantly children of immigrants from India, China and Korea. Their experience straddling two worlds is not that different from Engle’s. I will recommend this to my students and I hope you do too.

Top Ten Books I Will Carry Over From 4th Grade to 6th by Adrienne Gillespie

19 Sep

I’m the Guest Blogger for The Nerdy Book Club today!

Nerdy Book Club

Everything was different as I packed up my class in June. I was packing for a move, not just putting things away for a few months. After 12 years in a Title I elementary school, I was going back to teaching middle school. I am going to teach 6th grade Humanities in a program for the highly gifted. I am excited to make this enormous change but it presented a packing dilemma. Which books would transition well from my 4th grade classroom to my 6th grade room? Upon reflecting, I decided these are the books I cannot live without.

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The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Ferdinand likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers, but one day he gets stung by a bee and his snorting and stomping convince everyone that he is the fiercest bull.

This classic was my favorite as a kid. This was the first book…

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Round 2 of Round 2

18 Sep

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Yesterday, the CYBILS judges were announced and I will be a Round 2 judge for YA nonfiction again this year.

I debated about whether or not I should apply to be a judge again because of my Morris Committee responsibilities. The bulk of that reading will be done by early December when we announce our five finalists. From that point until the ALA Midwinter meeting, I will concentrate on reading this five novels.  Fortunately, the ALA Midwinter Meeting comes early this year, so that will be wrapped up by January 12th.

Being a Round 2 judge is easier than being a round 1 judge, where you have to read everything. on January 1st, round 1 judges announce a shortlist of the best books they read. Round 2 judges get busy reading that shortlist. That will be my job and the timing is good. I can take the week between the announcement and my trip to ALA to putting the books I need on hold at the library. I can go to ALA prepared to debate which of our 5 Morris books is the best and when I come home, exhausted and exhilarated, I can start reading the CYBILS books that have arrived at the library.

Let’s just hope my master plan works.

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