Archive | September, 2016

Homo neanderthalensis

16 Sep

Neanderthals were a species of humans that went extinct. They co-existed with homo sapiens, made  tools,  kindled fire, and probably had a language. It seems like dry stuff, but Jeffrey Brown has brought homo neanderthalensis to life in his graphic novel Lucy and Andy Neanderthal.


Publisher’s Summary: For fans of the New York Times bestselling Jedi Academy books comes a hilarious new graphic novel series about two young cave kids living 40,000 years ago.

The laugh-out-loud adventure features Lucy and her goofball brother Andy, as the duo take on a wandering baby sibling, bossy teens, cave paintings, and a mammoth hunt. But what will happen when they encounter a group of humans?

Humorous and entertaining, Jeffrey Brown’s signature comical touch enlivens the scientific and historical content, including a special paleontologist section that helps to dispel common Neanderthal myths.


The book was really quite captivating. Brown has clearly done his research. The humorous story has bits of factual information dropped into the narrative just when I was wondering about some of the details.


Curious readers who like a little humor with their facts will find this an enjoyable read.

A Successful Booktalk

15 Sep

Since school started, I’ve given a daily book talk. I’m trying to showcase different genre and topics. Yesterday, I thought I was taking a bit of a wild chance: a historical fiction novel in verse.


Publisher’s Summary:In a haunting yet hopeful novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who became a champion of civil rights.

Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but beautiful. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and nearly-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.

So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined that violence will not be the only way to gain liberty.

I chose this book for several reasons: an interesting topic, a novel in verse (which my readers know I love), and a non-white main character.

My classes are majority minority, so I thought I might get some takers. But I didn’t know how they’d take to a novel in verse.

I shouldn’t have worried. As soon as I mentioned that Margarita Engle was the author, eyes lit up. Many of them had read another of her novels in verse, Mountain Dog.  And so, I was pleasantly surprised to see more students than I expected, add Lion Island to the “Next” list.

Grade 6, Year 2

13 Sep


It’s my second year teaching 6th grade in Oregon’s largest middle school. What a difference a year makes.

Last year, I had no idea what I was teaching.

Fortunately, I had an excellent teaching partner who held my hand through the whole year. She had taught 6th grade for years and knew which end was up. I felt completely topsy-turvy for the first couple of months. Everything and everyone was new. Slowly, my knowledge grew, and, with it, my confidence.

I started this year feeling more self-assured. I knew people. I knew what I was teaching and how things worked. I knew what I was doing.

Unfortunately, my teaching partner received some bad news and had to leave town for a family emergency. She will miss at least the first two weeks of school and so, the shoe is now on the other foot. I get to be the expert, guiding her sub through the first few weeks of school, explaining units and clarifying procedures.

Although it is helping my teaching partner and her sub, it is helping me, too. Although I was a little anxious at first, knowing I bore an extra burden helping the room next door get off to a good start, I now feel even more confident than I had in late August.

When I left my old school, I was something of an institution there. I now think that I could be come that here. And that is saying a lot.



2016 National Book Award Young People’s Lit Longlist Announced

12 Sep



When Bad Things Happen

12 Sep

When bad things happen, some people carry on, some ignore the problem and some worry. Kathleen Lane’s The Best Worst Thing is all about a girl who worries.


Shortly after visiting a neighborhood store, it is robbed and the cashier is murdered. This sends Maggie into a world of worry. She checks closets and doors frequently, but grows more anxious. Ar school, her best friend starts hanging with “cool” kids, leaving her behind. And her neighbor, who raises rabbits, sells the leftovers for meat. So, Maggie counts to calm herself down.

Publisher’s Summary:

Front door locked,

kitchen door locked, 
living room windows closed.
Nobody in the closet, 
nobody under the beds.
Still, Maggie is worried. Ever since she started middle school, she sees injustice and danger everywhere–on the news, in her textbooks, in her own neighborhood. Even her best friend seems to be changing.
Maggie believes it is up to her, and only her, to make everything all right. Can she come up with a plan to keep everyone safe?
The Best Worst Thing is a perceptive novel about learning the limits of what you can control, and the good–sometimes even best–things that can come of finally letting go.
This is a short, but thoughtful book about dealing with change.

My classroom confession

11 Sep

There was a sharp intake of disbelieving breath on Thursday when I told my class I didn’t like funny books. I’d book talked Nine, Ten  on Wednesday and Towers Falling on Thursday. I told them I loved a good “rip your heart out your chest” serious book that made me cry. And I told them  that making me cry was one way I measure how good a book was.

When the time came Friday for a book talk, I wanted to show them I could get out of my comfort zone, just like I wanted them to do. So, I book talked a funny book, Our Teacher Is a Vampire and Other (Not) True Stories by Mary Amato.


Publisher’s Summary: Award-winning author Mary Amato has created another funny and engaging novel set in an elementary school. This time a notebook passed from student to student becomes a repository for wild rumors, heartfelt confessions, and truly creative writing.

It all begins when Alexander H. Gory Jr. passes around a notebook in which he reveals a tantalizing secret: he has proof that their teacher, Mrs. Penrose, is a vampire. Soon the entire class is speculating and adding their opinions to the notebook until . . . it lands in Mrs. Penrose’s hands. It turns out that Mrs. Penrose has been keeping a secret: she is expecting a baby. But since the notebook is encouraging her students to write and improving their spelling and grammar, Mrs. Penrose allows it to continue circulating as long as some basic rules are followed.

The notebook becomes a place for make jokes, poems and stories. When Mrs. Penrose’s baby comes too soon, and she is replaced by a no-nonsense substitute, the students express their fears for their teacher, their frustrations and their hopes.

I chose the read aloud portion of my book talk carefully and settled on this page



I know Omar is going to get mad, so don’t pass this book to him. But there’s exciting news that cannot wait until free time or recess tomorrow. After we came back from lunch, Nick told me that he found more proof.

“Go look in her cup!” he said.

I went up to “get a tissue” and saw inside Mrs. Penrose’s white cup. It’s not filled with water. It’s filled with dark red liquid. Blood!

Seriously yours,

P.S. Pass it on or else toads and locusts will fall on your head like rain.

This got a big reaction and a lot of students added it to the “Next” list we’d added to the back of our reader’s notebook. It is a quick read and I suspect my copy will be well-loved by the end of the year.

The one I haven’t read yet

9 Sep

I put Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things on hold at the library before it was published this month.


I’ve been tracking it’s progress through the library system as it has gone from on order to in process to in transit. I am the first hold on the Multnomah County Library system’s 19 copies. I suspect it will be on the hold shelf for me later today.

Publisher’s Summary:On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows, covered in ash, and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a NYC detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

I can’t tell you much else about it. Just that I am excited to read it.


8 Sep

Here is a post I wrote last year about Tom Rogers’ ELEVEN, another middle grade book about 9/11.



For my 4th graders, turning 10 is huge. Double digits, you know.

For Alex Douglas, the protaganist in Eleven, by Tom Rogers, turning eleven means he is responsible enough to get a dog. Or so he hopes. Alex’s 11th  birthday doesn’t start off the way he expects and when you realize that Alex turns 11 on September 11, 2001, you know the day is not going to end the way he expects, either.

From the Publisher: Alex Douglas always wanted to be a hero. But nothing heroic ever happened to Alex. Nothing, that is, until his eleventh birthday. When Alex rescues a stray dog as a birthday gift to himself, he doesn’t think his life can get much better. Radar, his new dog, pretty much feels the same way. But this day has bigger things in store for both of them.

This is a story about bullies and heroes. About tragedy…

View original post 118 more words

…and After

7 Sep

Monday, I wrote about Nine, Ten which focused on the days leading up to 9/11. Today’s book, Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes, deals with the aftermath.


Publisher’s Summary: From award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes, a powerful novel set fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks.

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

Award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a powerful story about young people who weren’t alive to witness this defining moment in history, but begin to realize how much it colors their every day.

For a small book, this one covers a lot of territory. We have kids with a range of knowledge about 9/11, survivor guilt, community and what it means to be an American.

Deja was a little hard to like at first. She is very defensive, trying not to let people know she lives in a shelter, prickly because so many responsibilities fall on her shoulders. As you to know her,  she becomes more likable and finally you end up rooting for her and her family. I think, too, that this book might make readers curious to fill in gaps in their knowledge about 9/11.

The language in this one is appropriate for 4th & 5th grade readers.

Nail-biting: An Apology

6 Sep

I am 51 years old and I am a nail biter. I don’t mean to apologize for my habit. Instead, I mean the lesser used meaning of apology  :  a formal justification.


I tried to stop when I was a teen and people around me started wearing nail polish, but I disliked how the polish felt on my nails. It seemed as though my fingertips were suffocating. Perhaps, had I been patient, I could have grown accustomed to the feeling, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t. I’ve tried other times, but haven’t really tried for several decades. The truth is, I LIKE my nails short and I enjoy biting  them.

When I am reading and I am really into the book, my thumbnail goes into my mouth and my teeth saw back and forth.

There is a particular joy I derive from biting my nails and I enjoy using my teeth, not a nail file, to smooth out the rough edges. I intensely dislike the sound of nails being filed.

Sometimes I bite my nails when I think deeply. I often bite them before writing my Tuesday Slice.

I know that my hands touch many nasty things during the day, especially when school is in session, so I wash them frequently. But I am not so germ phobic that I want to give us my dirty little habit. I tend to do it when I am alone, not in public. I don’t think I do it at school, unless I am behind a stack of papers that need grading.

School begins today and you won’t find me biting my nails out of nervousness anticipation. You might find me thinking about what I will say or the philosophy of the meeting place for writer’s workshop. I will make an effort not to bit my nails at school, though. I’d like to make a good impression on the first day.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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