Archive | May, 2016

An easy week that wasn’t

31 May


It was supposed to be an easy week: only four days with kids and one of these an all day meeting with Humanities teachers. I was looking forward to the last full week of May. But as Robert Burns once wrote

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
And so it was last week.  Monday, a student who still hadn’t turned in her Teen Activism book, did so after some emails to her other.  Like all PD, Tuesday’s meeting had its high and low points, but it ended well. Woohoo!
Things started going downhill Wednesday when student who has had a rough go the last few weeks, failed a test in my class. He has been an A student all year and this was very much out of character. I’d noticed a few other things with him and I slept poorly that night, worried about him. Thursday morning, feeling wretched after my poor night’s sleep I sat to grade the next stack of Teen Activism books when I noticed something unusual: the book I’d been so happy to receive Monday, was IDENTICAL to that of another student, who had turned hers in on time. After a quick chat with the girl whose work had been stolen, I contacted my VP.  According to my VP, when she asked the student why she was there, the student said “Because I stole ____’s book.” I also managed to talk to my VP about the student who failed the test. She assured me she’d check up on his situation. We are all worried about him.
Thank goodness we had no students Friday. One of our in school PD options was a mile walk around the neighborhood. I chose that as my first option and it was invigorating…just what I needed.
We have another four-day week this week, and only three weeks of school left. I hope these last three weeks are a little less dramatic.

Band of Sisters

29 May

In 1993, Stephen Ambrose brought us Band of Brothers,


a work of non fiction that told the story of the men of E Company during World War II describes how they parachuted into France early D-Day morning, parachuted into Holland during the Arnhem campaign, and captured Hitler’s Bavarian outpost.

In 2001, HBO, Tom Hanks and others, translated the book into a 10-episode mini-series.


And now, in 2016, Michael Grant reimagines World War II in Front Lines, 


set in a world where  a court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. front Lines is a sort of Band of Sisters, and the first in a new series called Soldier Girl.

From the Author’s Website: Front Lines is Michael Grant’s latest epic stroke of dark genius. A thrilling new trilogy that plays with the What Ifs? Of history. What if during World War II, the girls had been called up to fight with the boys? What if there was no distinction made between a girl and boy in battle? What if the fate of the world could be changed?

Front Lines book cover by Michael Grant ISBN 9781405273824Meet Rio Richlin and her friends:

Rio Richlin is a 17 year-old white girl from a small town in northern California. She has no superpowers, she is not noticeably special in any way, but she will grow to become an effective combat soldier.

Frangie (Francine) Marr is a black girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city with a terrible history of racism. She likes animals, wishes she could grow up to be a doctor, and spends the war as a combat medic, saving lives amidst slaughter.

Rainy (Elusheva) Schulterman is a Jewish girl from New York who wants to do all she can to stop Hitler. She will offer her penetrating intellect and talent for languages to army intelligence as an analyst and a spy.

The soldier girls must prove their guts, strength, and resourcefulness as soldiers. Rio has grown up in a world where men don’t cry and girls are supposed to care only about money and looks. But she has always known that there is something wrong with this system and something else in her. Far from home and in the battlefields, Rio discovers exactly who she is meant to be.

Here’s the trailer

Florence and Raymie Nightingale

27 May

You know, reader, that I love Kate DiCamillo.


I put Raymie Nightingale  on hold at the library when it was still “On Order” and waited patiently for my turn. I took a deep breath before starting, fearing for a moment, I might be disappointed. I can tell you now, that I was not, though I wondered at times how all the disparate threads would be woven together. Like many of her books, there is a sadness to Raymie Nightingale, but there is also hope. Raymie, like Flora, of Flora and Ulysses,  lives with her Mom and hopes that her dad will return. From an elderly neighbor, she learns about the human soul, and thinks a lot about how her soul waxes and wanes as good and bad things happen. As she makes new friends and endeavors to performs good deeds, Raymie Clarke will touch your heart.


Publisher’s Summary:Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

I was a few chapters in before I wondered why the book was called Raymie Nightingale when the main character was named Raymie Clarke. I will not tell you, but I hope you will read the book and discover the answer.

Retelling Shakespeare

26 May

Great masterpieces of literature have been retold many times. How could we forget that great fan fiction film classic Clueless?


In case you didn’t see the movie, it is loosely based on jane Austen’s Emma. It wasn’t really my cup of tea.

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale,  E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear is far more my cup of tea.


The title comes from stage directions in Act III, Scene 3. And it is why our main character is named Hermione Winters, and her boyfriend Leon. Unlike the play, the book opens at cheerleading camp in Northern Ontario, Canada, where, as a senior, Hermione is one of the leaders. I will admit that I was a little put off at first because of the cheerleading aspect of this book, but I set my prejudice aside, trusting in E. K. Johnston’s ability to tell a story.

Summary: Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Every girl who suffers a sexual assault should have the support system Hermione has. Every girl who knows someone who has been sexually assaulted should be as supportive as Hermione’s friends, family, coach, and police officer in charge of the case. Johnston admits that she has written an ideal support system, and I think it is important that she has. Sometimes we are cast as the main character, sometimes the supporting characters and the supporting characters in this book have a lot to teach us.

This might be one of the best books for young adults I’ve read this year.


Celebrating Authors

24 May


Nervous anticipation buzzed in the room as I entered. Children, with  proud parents nearby,  mingled around a table of cookies and juice, all clutching letters in their hands. They were the authors of the letters and tonight was the night of the 2016  Oregon Letters About Literature Awards. Three of my 6th graders were honorable mentions and this was an event I didn’t want to miss for the world.

They’d written the letters all the way back in December, writing to an author whose book had moved them to some new sort of understanding. I sent them to the Library of Congress, who sent the best back to Oregon for judging. And here we were, five months later, celebrating.

Fonda Lee, local author of Zeroboxer,  opened the event. I was interested as she told us about the books and authors who influenced her, and the writing partners and critique groups that made her a better writer. I got weepy as she shared the comments Holly Goldberg Sloan, Renee Watson and Laini Taylor with whom she shared the letters the three  First Place winners wrote to. Not ten minutes in and I was emotional!

Pride swelled as my first student stepped bravely to front to read her letter aloud. Her mother, sitting in the same aisle as me, was not the only parent recording her child last night.This girl was very poised and spoke in a clear, confident voice. I chuckled when  my second student , the one I think of as my poet, went up. Like the first student, she wore a black dress, but, in her own inimitable style, she had Converse on her feet. I watched her parents, beaming proudly as they held back tears.

I listened attentively as the other students read their letters, but for me, the best had been read. Driving home from the event, I reflected on how much all my students have grown as writers this year. It’s been a year of big changes for me, but, tonight, I know I have done a good job.

Letters About Literature Logo 2015

Small but vital reporters

23 May

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I loved listening to a CBC radio programme called Double Exposure. Satirizing contemporary Canadian politics, the show starred Linda Cullen and Bob Robertson, and focused primarily on the stars’ voice impersonations of Canadian political and cultural figures. One of my favorite segments has Cullen personifying “Victoria Penner, small but vital reporter”.

For a while, I’d considered journalism as a career, but hadn’t wanted to end up doing human interest stories on a small town paper and laughed as Cullen confirmed my decision to go into teaching instead. Of course, I wanted to be a famous foreign correspondent or at the very least, a substantial figure in Canadian political journalism. I didn’t think I had the killer instinct it would take to get ahead in, what was still, a male dominated career. Writing would be my avocation, but not my career.

With these memories swirling in my memory, I happily found myself reading two books about female journalists that would make a fabulous fiction, non-fiction pairing.


Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter, by the amazingly named Beth Fantaskey, is set in 1920’s Chicago. Isabel is a small but intrepid newsie, who longs to be a reporter.

Goodreads Summary:It’s 1920s Chicago—the guns-and-gangster era of Al Capone—and it’s unusual for a girl to be selling the Tribune on the street corner. But ten-year-old Isabel Feeney is unusual . . . unusually obsessed with being a news reporter. She can’t believe her luck when she stumbles not only into a real-live murder scene, but also into her hero, the famous journalist Maude Collier. The story of how the smart, curious, loyal Isabel fights to defend the honor of her accused friend and latches on to the murder case like a dog on a pant leg makes for a winning, thoroughly entertaining middle grade mystery.


Before the era of Isabel’s adventure, Nellie Bly was setting the standard for stunt journalism, when even fewer women worked in the news industry. Deborah Noyes’ Ten Days a Madwoman,  takes us to the start of Bly’s career and the first stunt that made her a household name.

Publisher’s Summary: Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion. But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.

Nellie Bly became a household name as the world followed her enthralling career in “stunt” journalism that raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.

Readathon 2016

22 May

I found out early yesterday morning that it was National Readathon Day, a day dedicated to the joy of reading and giving, when readers everywhere can join together in their local library, school, bookstore, and on social media (#Readathon2016) to read and raise funds in support of literacy. I was too late in the game to do anything other than read, but I am filing away the info for next year. But I can share some of the cool graphics I found



and tell you about the binge read I went on yesterday.

Because it is due back at the library soon, I started and finished Sarah Dooley’s Free Verse.


Publisher’s Summary:

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands – Review by Gregory Taylor

20 May

Here’s a Nerdy Book Club post by my Morris Committee colleague, Gregory Taylor. I have read this book and highly recommend it.

Nerdy Book Club

the blackthorn keySecret Codes, Secret Societies, Secret Passages…

and Blowing Stuff Up

I went through a serious secret-code phase when I was a kid. I read books about how to create and crack codes. I tried to rope my friends, my little sister, even my teachers, into trading messages with me using a variety of secret strategies. I’m guessing some of you had a similar phase. To be honest, I never completely outgrew my fascination with codes.

That’s just one of the reasons I love The Blackthorn Key so much. On the day before his fourteenth birthday in 1665 London, apothecary’s apprentice Christopher Rowe decides to build a cannon. His master, Benedict Blackthorn, has written his recipe for gunpowder in code, so rivals – and naughty apprentices – can’t decipher it. But Christopher has cracked the code, and naturally wants to try it out. He convinces his best friend, Tom, to help…

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Forest of Wonders

19 May

In my mind, Linda Sue Park is the author of realistic fiction for middle grade readers. They often feature protagonists of Asian ancestry.


So, imagine my surprise as I began reading her newest book, Forest of  Wonders, which feels unlike anything else she’s written.


Sometimes when there is a shift like this, I find it hard to get into a book because I  am fighting against my preconceived idea of what is supposed to be in the book. Usually, though, once I shake off my prejudice, I am happy with the unexpected book. And such is the case with Forest of Wonders.

Publisher’s summary: Raffa Santana has always loved the mysterious Forest of Wonders. For a gifted young apothecary like him, every leaf could unleash a kind of magic. When an injured bat crashes into his life, Raffa invents a cure from a rare crimson vine that he finds deep in the Forest. His remedy saves the animal but also transforms it into something much more than an ordinary bat, with far-reaching consequences. Raffa’s experiments lead him away from home to the forbidding city of Gilden, where troubling discoveries make him question whether exciting botanical inventions—including his own—might actually threaten the very creatures of the Forest he wants to protect.

The book reminded me at times of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s False Prince series. Like that series,  Forest of Wonder is a fast paced story with a young boy setting off on his own to solve a problem within a realm. The first in a trilogy, this book is ideal for fans of those books, as well as Park’s already large fan base.


17 May


My principal spent part of a day last week, stopping in each classroom to let teachers know where they’d be next year. My team isn’t changing and it is the first time in 5 years, I am staying put. Same room, same curriculum. That’s not to say I won’t do some things differently next year; it will be fine tuning rather than radical change.

So, it seems to be a good time to reflect on my 2016 One Little Word: contentment. In January, my rationale for choosing this word was this:

Having worked hard to “get what I wanted” I want to take some time to relax and enjoy whatever comes my way. Although I greatly enjoyed serving on the Morris Committee, I want the serendipity of reading whatever I find at the library. Now that I have the job I sought so actively, I want to enjoy being that teacher.

I am an introvert by nature and I think a lot of 2015 put me out of my comfort zone. I had to be more extroverted than I am by nature. I want to reclaim my introversion and just be happy with what I have, where I live and work. I am sure I will find something that will catch my fancy and will let it sweep me up, but for now, I am content with life and I just want to embrace that for a while.

We have 5-1/2 weeks of school left and I am feeling very comfortable in my new school. I embraced my new job, letting is sweep me up and it has been a good year. Contentment implies a simplicity and an ease of mind. As the year winds down, I am not worried about where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in the next school year and that definitely brings me peace of mind.

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