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Back to the books

1 Apr

After 31 days blogging for the Slice of Life Challenge with the Two Writing Teachers, I am back to writing about books. And I have an excellent one for you today. If you haven’t read it yet, go oust asap and get a copy of Pax by Sara Pennypacker.


I got an arc of this in Boston, but only got around the reading it over Spring Break.

Right from the opening I was hooked. In fact, I started it at school during silent reading and was so enthralled by the opening paragraph that I read it aloud to my class.

Publisher’s Summary:From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes a beautifully wrought, utterly compelling novel about the powerful relationship between a boy and his fox. Pax is destined to become a classic, beloved for generations to come.

Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .

Although very different, Pax reminds me a lot of that heart book of mine, The One and Only Ivan. Told through alternating chapters, with one strand following 12-year-old Peter and the other Pax, we see each of them grow as they try to find their way back to each other. Peter makes an actual journey, while Pax waits steadfastly. Pennypacker’s writing is beautifully poetic and fable-like. This book is grimmer than The One and Only Ivan, but the beauty of the cover is found in the honey of the prose.


Finding your métier

28 Dec

I’ve been teaching since 1988. That’s 27 years of teaching and I finally feel like I’m good at it. It took me a long time to feel that way. Since the elimination of my library job, I felt like I was floundering a bit, so I took a risk and changed jobs, and four months into it, I feel like I’ve found my footing again.

Métier is a French word that is often translated as your job, trade, profession, or occupation, but it carries more weight than those English words. The French word implies that you are good at it. You’ve probably seen some versions of these

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Whatever you would insert in front of  “is my Superpower” is probably your métier.

In looking for books about basset hounds, I came a cross two books that show two very similar characters and their very similar métiers. They could, in fact, almost be before and after books.

In Job Wanted,  written by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Chris Sheban,


a homeless dog arrives on a farm, looking for a job, but is turned away by the farmer , who does not need a dog. The dog offers to be a cow, horse, and chicken. He shows up each morning to demonstrate his talents, but the farmer always says no. It isn’t until the dog scares off a fox that the farmer realizes how valuable the dog can be. It is a little bittersweet, but ends on a hopeful note.

In Ragweed’s Farm DogHandbook written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy,


it seems that we are meeting the evolved dog from Job Wanted. Ragweed, a farm dog, explains the jobs that roosters, pigs, chickens, sheep, and cows do. Each explanation is followed by the refrain, “That’s their job. That’s not your job.” Ragweed then tells you what happens if you do their job and the biscuits that eventually result. Because that is the farm dog’s job: TO GET BISCUITS! This book is funny and, living with a basset hound who can manipulate me into giving her treats with just a look, I assure you it is very realistic.



Warming my heart with tea and books

7 Dec

Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah. Last night’s tea from my advent calendar was Glitter and Gold.

Looking for a little star power? This sweet, spiced black tea is filled with pretty little gold star-shaped sprinkles. Take a sip and the slow suggestion of cinnamon will warm your body. Your toes will tingle and your mind will turn to fireworks, falling stars, late-night seduction. It’s basically magic.

Ingredients: Black tea, lemon peel, sugar sprinkles, sugar, cloves, natural and artificial flavouring.


My sister, the giver of the advent calendar,  was the one who explained to me that this tea was to celebrate the first day of Hanukkah. I love this cultural cross-pollination of the Advent calendar!

And that thought brings me to one of my favorite holiday books by Patricia Pollaco,  The Trees of the Dancing Goats.


Goodreads Summary: Trisha loves the eight days of Hanukkah, when her mother stays home from work, her Babushka makes delicious potato latkes, and her Grampa carves wonderful animals out of wood as gifts for Trisha and her brother. In the middle of her family’s preparation for the festival of lights, Trisha visits her closest neighbors, expecting to find them decorating their house for Christmas. Instead they are all bedridden with scarlet fever. Trisha’s family is one of the few who has been spared from the epidemic. It is difficult for them to enjoy their Hanukkah feast when they know that their neighbors won’t be able to celebrate their holiday. Then Grampa has an inspiration: they will cut down trees, decorate them, and secretly deliver them to the neighbors, “But what can we decorate them with?” Babushka asks. Although it is a sacrifice, Trisha realizes that Grampa’s carved animals are the perfect answer. Soon her living room is filled with trees — but that is only the first miracle of many during an incredible holiday season.
Based on a long cherished childhood memory, this story celebrates the miracle of true friendship.

This book will warm your heart more deeply than a cup of tea.

On my radar

30 Sep


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.


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?


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.


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.

Moving beyond boxes: 6th grade read alouds

3 Sep

The boxes are all unpacked and I have begun really thinking about what will happen in my room this year. I have the luxury of teaching two 2-hour blocks of Humanities. We are committing to Writers’ Workshop for the first half of the block so I know that won’t feel luxurious all the time, but I want to get into the habit of reading aloud to my gifted 6th graders no matter what. I ave a couple of ideas about what I might read to them. And, I might decide to read something different to each class, to keep me sharp. Here are some books I am considering:

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Surviving a plane crash…surviving middle school… there must be some connection!


Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Middle school…bullying …friends


Unbroken  by Laura Hillebrand (the YA version)

resillience… a key to succeeding in middle school


A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

prejudice and friendship, loss and love and female main characters


The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

This might be old enough that they haven’t read it


Small as an Elephant  by Jennifer Jacobson



Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

A beautiful story told in beautiful language


Facing my book fears

28 Aug

Have you ever been afraid to read the next novel by an author after you have discovered that the first one you read is your heart book?

I was given an ARC of Katherine Applegate’s soon to be published Crenshaw at the ALA conference.


It has been sitting in a box waiting for me to get the courage to read it. You see, The One and Only Ivan  is a heart book. I may or may not have coined that term, but I stole it from the dog world, where a “heart dog” is that once in a lifetime – maybe twice if you’re truly blessed – soul mate dog. So, a heart book is the book that speaks to your soul.

It is a tough act to follow.

I got up the courage to read it yesterday and consumed it in one sitting, it was that good. Although Crenshaw might not make it to heart book status, it is definitely worth reading.

Publisher’s summary: In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

This is a beautiful book and I think Applegate truly captures the spirit of a fourth grader, and the way they think, in Jackson. If I were teaching 4th grade again, this might have become my new first read aloud.

Three down, one to go

20 Aug


Today is Day 4 of the 4-day  TCRWP writing workshop for middle school teachers. I think everyone who attended is energized and excited about implementing some of these strategies in our classrooms.

It has been good to be the student, to have to think like them, to do the tasks we will ask them to do, and to see how we can teach these ideas.

It’s been hard, too. There’s been some homework, but that isn’t the hardest part. It has been hot here and although my morning sessions have been in the nicely air-conditioned library, my afternoon sessions have been in a stiflingly hot classroom. Emily has been a saint. She teaches in that classroom all day and still has a smile by the end of her last session.

The 6th, 7th and 8th grade Summa teachers have agreed that we will all teach Ray Bradbury in reading. Sixth grade is taking on his short stories, 7th  reads  The Martian Chronicles, and 8th grade reads  Fahrenheit 451. So, when our homework Tuesday night was to choose one of the stories from a packet they provided, read it and jot some thoughts, I naturally chose Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day. Wednesday, we used our notes to learn techniques to have kids write a literary essay. Even though we were writing about several different stories, the strategy worked for everyone.

Fiction/Nonfiction Pairings: The Danish Resistance

8 Jul

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I have long been interested in the occupation of Denmark during World War 2. It mostly stems from my year on the island of Langeland between grades 12 & 13. Although it was 1982-82, memories of the war were still vivid. In fact, on one of my favorite bike rides, i would frequently stop at the cemetery in Magleby, hallway between the town I lived in, Trygglev and Bagenkop, the southernmost town on Langeland. Six British and Canadian airmen are buried in this cemetery, making World War 2 very real for me in a way it hadn’t been before, at home.



So it shouldn’t be surprising that I was excited that Phillip Hoose’s latest nonfiction book, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Andersen and the Churchill Club caught my attention. This is the nonfiction story told in the 1995 Batchelder winner, The Boys from St. Petri by Bjarne B. Reuter. The Batchelder award is awarded to an American publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States.

Publisher’s Summary of The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Andersen and the Churchill Club : The true story of a group of boy resistance fighters in Denmark after the Nazi invasion.

At the outset of World War II, Denmark did not resist German occupation. Deeply ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen resolved with his brother and a handful of schoolmates to take action against the Nazis if the adults would not. Naming their secret club after the fiery British leader, the young patriots in the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage, infuriating the Germans, who eventually had the boys tracked down and arrested. But their efforts were not in vain: the boys’ exploits and eventual imprisonment helped spark a full-blown Danish resistance. Interweaving his own narrative with the recollections of Knud himself, here is Phillip Hoose’s inspiring story of these young war heroes.

By airing these two books, students can get information about this period of history along with some insight into the boys’ belief in their cause and their fear of the consequences they face.

Happy Father’s Day

21 Jun


My dad’s name is Earl. Here we are in the late 60’s. Dad is obviously in the centre. I am on the left and my twin sister, Andrea is on the right. We might have just woken Dad up from a nap, during which we put a teddy bear beside him and a blankie over him. I wonder now if he was awake the whole time we were doing that.

I won’t get to see Dad this year. I was planning on calling him this morning, but he fell and broke his hip a few days ago. He had surgery yesterday. He is 83 and has Alzheimers and I am feeling more than a little worried. If you are someone who prays, please put in a word for his recovery.

Since it is Father’s Day, I’m sure that most of you would agree that Atticus Finch is THE best Dad in literature. And when I think of Atticus Finch, I see Gregory Peck.


Another great Dad, who loved unconditionally and did a lot with very little was Danny’s Dad, William, in Roald Dahl’s  Danny the Champion of the World. 


This is a Dahl book that doesn’t get read as much as the others, but is definitely worth reading.

And how about the  Knuffle Bunny  Dad by Mo Willems? That man has the patience of Job.

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Or the Dad in Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon?


Sneed B. Collard III takes a different twist with Animal Dads.


What are your favorite Dad books?

Thinking about the summer reading slump

5 Jun

Like most teachers, I am thinking about the summer reading slump and what I can do to be sure kids read over the summer so they come back as good a reader in September as they are now. Here is Kate Di Camillo, urging kids to participate in their local library’s summer reading program.

As I pack up my room, I am sorting through the hundreds of books I have, trying to decide which ones I should take to middle school, which I should leave in the classroom and which I will give away so my students have something to read over the summer.

A few of my kids have mentioned to me that they’ve already signed up for the summer reading program at the Beaverton City Library. The Bookmarks, this year’s champion OBOB team, have already had meetings and they have a plan to practice with a team from another school. But these are not the kids I worry about.

I worry about the ones who don’t have a library card. Who won’t go to summer school. Who don’t like to read, inspire of my best efforts.

Today is field day and our schedule gets thrown out the window. May be today is the day I teach them bout audiobooks. And the joys of reading along with a professional reader. maybe that will motivate those kids who really don’t enjoy reading.

What other things have you done that motivated the kids who don’t like to read, to do so over the summer?


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