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You can’t rush creativity

21 May

You can’t rush creativity, but sometimes, teachers have to help our charges get their creativity to meet a deadline. Our inventions have to be built today, so we can spend next week working on poster boards. That’s what I’m telling the kids. The Science Expo is June 2nd. If they stick to that deadline, we’ll be ready 2 days early. Most will make it. Some will need this two buffer days.

P. Zonka is also a creative genius who cannot be rushed.


She is the heroine of P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis. All the chickens on the farm are regular reliable egg-layers.


Except for P. Zonka. All the other chickens have theories as to why this is so. She wanders too much. She’s a dreamer. Although she’s never laid an egg, P. Zonka knows she’d be good at it. When she explains why the other chickens say, “I don’t get it.” But P. Zonka remains undaunted, and when she finally lays her egg, after some encouragement from the other chickens, it is spectacular.


Julie Paschkis’ illustrations are beautiful and evoke the pysanka (Ukranian Easter eggs) that inspired this story.

I hope the kids I’ve been nagging, doubting and theorizing about produce an invention as spectacular as P. Zonka’s.

You can’t rush creativity, but you can certainly encourage it.

Family History

11 May

My Aunt Dorothy is the family genealogist. She has traced my ancestors past the first Gillespie’s in my family tree to come to Canada, back through all the people in England and Ireland, into the early 1700’s.

IN his new book, My Family Tree and Me,  Dušan Petričić provides a beautifully simple introduction to the concept of family ancestry.

Unknown-2 Unknown

Front Cover               Back Cover

It uses two stories in one to explore a small boy’s family tree: the boy tells the family story of his father’s side starting from the front of the book, and that of his mother’s side starting from the back of the book. Four previous generations are introduced for each, from his great-great-grandparents to his parents. The grand finale in the center of the book reveals the boy’s entire extended family, shown in one drawing with all the members from both sides identified by their relationship to him.



Along the similar lines is A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, ONe Delicious Treat, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.


This is a story about blackberry fool and how the making of the delicious dessert has changed, and remained the same, over four centuries.


While not exactly a work of history, it is historical fiction and reminded me of the family history project we had the kids do when I last taught 7th grade. This would be a great mentor text for this kind of project because it clearly shows the connection between past and present, what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Both of these books would be excellent introductions to some aspect of family history, whether for a school project or just personal curiosity. Every family has its story to tell.

Last stop on Market Street

17 Apr

When I hear the name Matt de la Peña, I think young adult literature. But, he has also become a picture book author with  Last Stop On Market Street which is marvelously illustrated by Christian Robinson.


On his way home from church with his nana, CJ is impatient and wants things he a cannot have. As they travel on the bus, Nana ignites CJ’s imagination where trees drink raindrops from straws; the bus breathes fire; and each person has a story to tell. The text is an excellent example of “show don’t tell” writing that will inspire kids to see and imagine what is around them. This is a gentle book, but full of wonder.



Kids from urban neighborhoods will connect with CJ’s environment, and kids in less urban environments will have an opportunity to experience city life. I was thinking of our kinder team and the units they teach, but any primary classroom will enjoy this book.

Marching to their own drums

13 Apr

A while back I told a funny story of a conversation about 3 boys in my class starting a band. It is progressing. They plan to be part of the end of the year talent show and have invited one of the girls in my class to join. In reality she asked if she could join and they said yes. The drummer in the band is a pencil tapper. Quite frankly he drives me crazy sometimes because, like a real drummer, he taps two pencils on his desk, book pencil box in lieu of a drum kit.

He immediately popped into mind as I read Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.


Based on the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, we encounter Millo in 1930’s Cuba, where drumming is taboo for girls.


But Millo is undeterred. She dreams,


she drums wherever she can,


until, finally her father sets her up with a teacher.

The text is rhythmic and the illustrations are poetic and I felt I was right there in Cuba with Millo. Although it is a tale told simply, it is the powerful story of one girls dream and her willingness to persevere to achieve it.

Some thoughts while listening to Lucia di Lammermoor

29 Mar


Yesterday I stayed home and listened to the Met broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor, the opera by Donizetti. It is a ridiculous story, loosely based on Sir Walter Scott’s  The Bride of Lammermoor, but it i was just the right thing for my last free day of Spring Break.

It was just the right thing to do. It gave me an excuse to stay home and begin working on the sweater I will knit for the Oregon Basset Hound Games this summer. I had this idea of putting a basset front view on the front of the sweater and a rear view on the back of the sweater. I discovered a tool that will convert pictures to knitting (and cross stitch) graphics called the KnitPro Chart generator. I played around with that for a bit, while Lucia and Edgardo pledged their undying love for each other.

While Lucia’s brother, Enrico plotted to wed her to Arturo, I got out the yarn and cast on. As I knit, I wondered, what Sir Walter Scott would have thought of this adaptation. That got me thinking about my all time favorite book: Les Miserables. I have never seen the play or the movie. I don’t plan on doing so either. I love the book too much to see it turned into something I might not like. Everyone thinks Les Miserables  is about the love story, but it isn’t. It is about forgiveness and repentance. Maybe that is in the play and movie, but I doubt it so I’m steering clear. I wondered what Victor Hugo would think about the play and movies. How knows, maybe he’d have loved them and I am just being a stick in the mud.

By the time of Lucia’s mad scene, I was madly knitting the ribbing. I may even have shed a few tears as the opera came to its terrible sad ending. But I was ready to begin the color portion of the sweater and the initial rows require a bit more concentration, to get things centered and set up.

I knit into the afternoon and have left things at a place where I can manage it once I go back to school and have less time to knit and read. Good thing the sweater doesn’t have to be finished until July!


26 Jan


Hervé Tullet is simply brilliant. So are his books and the colors he uses.In 10 Times 10, Tullet counts to 10 in 10 wildly eccentric ways. Entries include a single hand that ends up, progressively, with 10 fingers; a face with three noses, four eyes and five mouths. All in all, this is a fun way to explore numbers with young readers.


Here’s another group of 10. 10 Little Monsters Visit Oregon, written by Rick Walton and illustrated by Jess Smart Smiley, explores some of the most unusual and interesting things about Oregon and what it has to offer.  Humorous poems  are paired with factual text about each Oregon location. Although the text is fun, the illustrations didn’t really work for me. This would be an additional purchase for a classroom studying Oregon. Better books on the topic would be Larry Gets Lost In Portland  by Michael Mullin and John Skewes (for younger readers)


or  B is for Beaver  by Marie and Roland Smith, for older readers.


Happy Burns Day!

24 Jan

Robert Burns, also known as Robbie Burns, the Ploughman Poet and the Bard of Ayrshire, was born on January 25, 1759.


One didn’t grow up a Gillespie without becoming familiar with him. Fortunately, we didn’t grow up eating the traditional Burns Night meal, haggis (sheep offal and oatmeal cooked in the sheep’s stomach).

Many of Burns’ poems were  intended to be sung, and many have been recorded, some very traditionally, some less so. Here is one of my favorites “A Man’s a Man For A That” performed by The Old Blind Dogs.

And here’s Dougie Maclean performing “Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie Doon”. It is a lovely recording.

Growing up a Gillespie, we were also taught to stand at attention when we heard the bagpipes, so, please rise for this rendition of Burns’ most popular song”Auld Lang Syne”.

And, if you also feel called to raise a glass in honor of the Bard of Ayrshire, today or any day, go right ahead.


Poetry in Motion

7 Jan


The title caught my eye first. What’s a vigilante poet? Well, let me tell you. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer is a witty story about a group of friends Ethan, our narrator, Luke, Jackson and Elizabeth) who rebel against their school being taken over by a reality TV show called  For Art’s Sake. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art’s Sake.When Luke becomes a contestant on the show, it’s up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school.

And just for fun, because writing this got me thinking about the Pogues’ EP,  Poguetry in Motion,  I thought I’d share my favorite song from that album, A Rainy Night in Soho.

Holiday Postal Traditions: A Slice of Life Story

2 Dec


My goal the week after Thanksgiving is to get the Christmas cards and packages in the mail. All of my family lives in Canada so packages must be mailed by December 10th, accruing ti USPS, but I like things to have time to sit under the tree. We have had years of packages arriving at the last possible moment and that os stressful for the sender.

Yesterday, I mailed off the first packages. I knit socks for my dad & a hat and mittens for my mother. I also sent a package to an online friend in England, who is part of my wider basset hound community. Right now the basset community is going crazy over red trapper hats from Target. Morse the basset doesn’t know this is coming, but I can picture him walking across the fields of  Devon wearing it.

My wackiest holiday postal tradition is the Daily Drool Howliday Card Exchange. Every year the Daily Drool, an online basset list serve, organizes a card exchange. everyone creates a holiday card with their bassets in it. You sign up for on of three lists (full, medium or short) and the are sent a pdf of ready to print  Avery 5160 labels with the names and addresses of the other participants. every year, I get around 100 basset themed holiday cards and decorate my house with them.

What is your wackiest holiday tradition?

Serendipity on a Street Corner

11 Nov


Yesterday, almost home from walking the dogs, I picked up a Christmas CD. I mean this literally, not figuratively. There was a box on the corner full of CD’s available for the taking. The CD was still wrapped in its original cellophane.

This is a custom in my neighborhood. When people move or reorganize, they put “good stuff” on the curb or at the corner. Corners are clearly better because they get more foot and vehicular traffic. I’ve put my share of things out and you might be surprised at how excited I get when I discover it has gone to a new home, to be loved by a person who needed it more than I did.

Over the years, I’ve picked up some really “good stuff”.  Every year, I knit an ornament for the holiday gift exchange that has become a not-to-be-missed tradition at my school . The first year I did this an unopened bag of stuffing appeared on the street corner. I am still using the bag to stuff the ornaments. There just might be enough to last until I retire.

Once, walking the dogs, I picked up a complete set of the audiobook of Julie Andrews’ Home: A Memoir of my Early Years. Not a scratch on any of the discs! I have also picked up a pewter bowl and an end table with a drawer. One of its legs was off  for want of a screw, but I had a bag of screws. It is now featured in my living room, leg repaired.

Sometimes, serendipitously, you find the thing you are looking for on a street corner.






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