Archive | August, 2018

LOL

14 Aug

I love when kids laugh out loud during independent reading. It warms my heart to know that someone has connected so deeply with a book, and it puts a smile on my face.

Yesterday, during our TCRWP reading training, our afternoon session had teachers as students, watching the skills the TCRWP trainers were modeling for us. Following the mini-lesson, we were given time to read from a book we had chosen. The room was very quiet – everyone was reading or making notes about their book – until I laughed out loud.

The thing is, I was so surprised at my outburst that it made me laugh harder, then snort. In an effort to get myself under control, I put my forehead on the table. I was silent, but it took a few moments to still my shaking shoulders, I was laughing that hard.

The thing is, the paragraphs that got me laughing weren’t really that funny. They were some of Willow’s observations in chapter 4 of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s. What made me react so strongly was that I recognized myself in her description because this is how I dress at home.

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Maybe you don’t see it as funny. You probably don’t dress this way, but when I am home, I wear a t-shirt and elastic waist shorts in the summer, and a t-shirt and elastic sweat pants in winter. I am not yet elderly, but Willow’s matter of fact description of my dress habits just struck me as funny at that particular moment, after lunch, in a reading workshop. I hope my laughter  during class warmed the heart of someone in that room and it put a smile on their face.

House Sparrows

13 Aug

At my old house, I had a little house sparrow that visited me. It would hop on my front porch and, if my front door was open to catch a breeze, she would hop onto the threshold and peek in. An elderly friend of mine told me it meant the bird had something important to tell me. I never found out what that was, but I think about that little bird from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot while I read The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill.

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Publisher’s Summary:Behold the most despised bird in human history!

So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.

But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.

This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.

The narrative text is augmented by Thornhill’s realistic illustrations that help the reader picture the truly remarkable history of the house sparrow.

 

Middle School (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

9 Aug

Moving to a new team feels like Middle School  and I have to find my place all over again. A lot is changing. I am excited about a new grade but worry about losing the friends I will no longer be working with. Oh, middle school!

Trudy Mixer, the protagonist of Ann Hood’s She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah), is in the same boat.

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This was a really great read and I think that kids today will be able to connect, event though the book is set when I was still in diapers.

 

Transitioning

7 Aug

Turning the kitchen calendar from July to August felt traumatic this year. It meant only two weeks of summer left. August is transition time, the Sunday night of summer.

Over the summer we learned that, not only were we getting a new principal, the whole office staff is changing: secretary, two VPs, student supervisor, and principal. It is unprecedented in my career. Also unprecedented was the email from our new principal inviting us to sign up for a time to come in for an informal, on-on-one chat. Wow!

My meeting was yesterday.

I tend to spend the summer in athletic shorts and t-shirts, but I arrived at school in Bermuda shorts and a striped shirt. Casually professional. I wanted the first impression of me to be a good one!

Our chat started off informally, with each of us giving a little bit of our background and me talking about my three-year experience at my school. We knew some people in common, even though we’d never met before. Education is a small world.

She concluded with two specific questions about communication practices and conference scheduling. Two things people had complained a lot about last year. I told her what I’d heard as a union rep and what I thought.

I had walked in hoping she’d surprise me by saying I could stay in 6th grade. I’ve spent the summer coming to terms with my grade change. I left feeling optimistic about the new school year, new admins and new grade. This is going to be a good one!

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Hey, Reader

6 Aug

I cry over books all the time. In fact, when I give a book talk, I tell the kids f it made me cry. It’s like a thumbs up signal. Very rarely do I cry over the back matter in a book, but I did for Jarrett J.  Krosoczka’s upcoming graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo.

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Publisher’s Summary: In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.
Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.
Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.

The book is honest and powerful and made even more so by the images of real drawings and letters from the author and several family members that are integrated effectively into the book. The palette choice is muted earth tones, and the back matter explains the colors were chosen.  Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one with a hanky. And I shouldn’t be the only one who reads – and cries over – the back matter.

There is some strong language and issues around addiction, but I feel very confident about putting this in my classroom library.

The book doesn’t come out until October, but you hear Jarrett tell his story in this TED Talk from a few years ago.

 

 

Summer movie summary

3 Aug

I usually have big plans about movies I will see at the theater in the summer. My plans usually fail and I end up watching them at home months later. But not this summer. This summer I went to the movies THREE times!

The first one was a definite summer movie:

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This one won’t win any awards, but it was fun to watch – and sing along.

The next two were documentaries. I saw both in old-fashioned, classic theaters : the Laurelhurst Theatre and the Academy Theater.

My sister and I saw the Mr. Rogers documentary at the Laurelhurst.

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Yesterday, I went to the Academy Theater to see the documentary RBG.

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RBG and Mr. Rogers have very different personalities, backgrounds and life histories, but they are both about making a difference in the lives of ordinary people. It won’t surprise you to know I laughed and cried at Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  It might surprise you that I also laughed and cried at RBG.

If you haven’t seen either, I highly recommend both. I think middle schoolers might like both of them

Bob & Mason

2 Aug

Sometimes, book covers are remarkably similar and I get confused. Take these two, for example.


Both have trees in the center. Both have names in the title. Both feature the main character and a diminutive companion. Both are done in shades of browns and reds, oranges and yellows. Both have mysteries that need solving, though neither is a mystery book. I picked one up thinking it was the other. I read both. Both were great – sad, poignant. Funny, too.

Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, is set in Australia during a drought.

Publisher’s Summary: It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

The Truth According to Mason Buttle,  by Leslie Connor, is set in a family that has seen better days.

Publisher’s Summary: Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny.

But will anyone believe him?

Both were full of hope.

I hope you read them.

Dealing with change

1 Aug

Earlier this week, my school website changed my role from teaching 6th grade in Green Hall to 7th grade in Red Hall. As I have said before, it isn’t a bad change, but any change can be tricky to navigate. The familiar is always more comfortable.

This Duck and That Duck navigate changes of their own in Ellen Yeomans’ The Other Ducks.

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Publisher’s Summary: This Duck and That Duck were the best of friends. They did everything together but sometimes two ducks just isn’t enough.

When This Duck declares that he wishes there were Other Ducks around so they could waddle in a line (a very ducky thing to do), That Duck is quite confused.

That is until This Duck and That Duck go swimming, look down, and finally meet The Other Ducks.

Unfortunately, The Other Ducks never seem to come out of the water! Oh how This Duck and That Duck wish The Other Ducks would waddle outside the big puddle with them. But it’s getting colder and their feathers are starting to itch for warmer weather.

Will these best friends ever find their companions?

This is sort of a slapstick buddy book. But That Duck, with the encouragement of This Duck, faces some fears and grows as a person, or rather, as a duck. Even if the humor isn’t your cup a tea, persevere to the end – it will melt your heart.

This was a sweet and funny book that got me thinking about Farfallina & Marcel by Holly Keller, which is a less humorous but equally sweet.

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