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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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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

4 Sep

In my head, I refer to today as my “last day of freedom”. Good thing I like my job!

My plans for the day are simply to finish the book I am reading. What book is that, you ask? Why, it is Noteworthy by Riley Redgate.

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Publisher’s Summary: It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight. But then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped . . . revered . . . all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

This is the perfect book to keep me distracted. Jordan’s voice grabbed me from the start. I laughed out loud when, on the second page, she says

Kensington loves its hyphenated adjectives: college-preparatory, cross-curricular, objective -oriented.  “Low-stress” was not one of them.

This is the perfect book for middle and high school kids who loved Joanie Frankenhauser, but have grown up a little.

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I have not finished the book yet – remember, that is my plan for the day – but so far the romance seems chaste enough for middle school.

Enjoy your Labor day. And, for my Canadian friends and family, enjoy your Labour Day!

A limited time

1 Sep

By the end of the day yesterday, I started seeing the shimmering signs of an ocular migraine. Am I feeling stressed about being ready by the end of the day today? You betcha!

Working to a deadline can be hard and stressful. The children of Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder, are living to a deadline.

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Publisher’s Summary: For readers who loved Sara Pennypacker’s Pax and Lois Lowry’s The Giver comes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

Jinny isn’t ready and makes many poor decisions, some of which have rather significant consequences for everyone, and for the island itself.

Change is coming

27 Aug

Teachers in my district go back to work tomorrow. I went to school three days last week in order to get some work done, but also to practice getting up and going to work. It makes the transition easier.

The main character in Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride doesn’t get a chance to practice. Rydr has change thrust upon her.

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In case you can’t see it, the blurb on the front says “She found her family before she found her home.

Publisher’s Summary: A beautifully poignant debut perfect for fans of authors such as Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech and books like Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish. When Rydr travels by train from Los Angeles to Chicago, she learns along the way that she can find family wherever she is.

Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago, to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a backpack, memories both happy and sad, and a box, containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own story begins to emerge. It’s one of sadness and heartache, and one Rydr would sometimes like to forget. But as much as Rydr may want to run away from her past, on the train she finds that hope and forgiveness are all around her, and most importantly, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

There is so much I love about this book. Rydr is a little hard to like at first, but she blossoms as she meets strangers on the train and starts forming her family. Although Rydr is white, the other characters are a diverse lot. Set over the course of three days on a train, we are able to see Rydr blossom, and I can’t lie, this book made me cry. It also made me want to read Howl,  by Allen Ginsburg.

This book might be a long shot for the Newbery, but it is one my Mock Newbery Club will read.

Speaking of my Mock Newbery club, thanks to everyone who contributed to my Donors Choose project. That is complete and the books will ship to arrive after September 8th. I have a second fundraiser running through our local, district based donors choose type program and I am only $250 away from fulfilling that, but it seems to have stalled.  You can help me complete it by making a tax-deductible donation here. I am thankful for whatever you can do to help.

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The Arab of the Future

7 Oct

Riad’s Sattouf’s first autobiographical graphic novel, The Arab of the Future, opens simply.

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The Arab of the Future was followed this year by Arab of the Future 2. 

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Publisher’s Summary: In The Arab of the Future: Volume 1, cartoonist Riad Sattouf tells of the first years of his childhood as his family shuttles back and forth between France and the Middle East. In Libya and Syria, young Riad is exposed to the dismal reality of a life where food is scarce, children kill dogs for sport, and his cousins, virulently anti-Semitic and convinced he is Jewish because of his blond hair, lurk around every corner waiting to beat him up.

In Volume 2, Riad, now settled in his father’s hometown of Homs, gets to go to school, where he dedicates himself to becoming a true Syrian in the country of the dictator Hafez Al-Assad. Told simply yet with devastating effect, Riad’s story takes in the sweep of politics, religion, and poverty, but is steered by acutely observed small moments: the daily sadism of his schoolteacher, the lure of the black market, with its menu of shame and subsistence, and the obsequiousness of his father in the company of those close to the regime. As his family strains to fit in, one chilling, barbaric act drives the Sattoufs to make the most dramatic of changes.

Darkly funny and piercingly direct, The Arab of the Future, Volume 2 once again reveals the inner workings of a tormented country and a tormented family, delivered through Riad Sattouf’s dazzlingly original talent.

These are really great graphic memoirs that I would feel very comfortable adding to my 6th grade classroom library. What Persepolis did for Iran, Sattouf’s memoirs will do for the Middle East. In these days of suspicion and misunderstanding of the “other”, these graphic novels provide some insight.

Autumn in the Air

3 Oct

October rolled in on Saturday with grey skies and some heavy rain. It felt tremendously autumnal.

There is a scent in the air that comes with fall and, part of it is mixed with the scent of apples in orchard which later find a home the fruit cellar in our basement.

In “The Part You Throw Away”, Tom waits sang that

Time is just memory

Mixed with desire

Helen Frost’s  Applesauce Weather has a bit of that scent about it, but in a manner appropriate for elementary age students.

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Publisher’s Summary:In a touching poetic novel, a fall apple ritual—along with some inventive storytelling—brings a family together as they grieve the loss of a beloved family member.

When the first apple falls from the tree, Faith and Peter know that it’s applesauce weather, even though Peter is getting a little old for such things. It also means Uncle Arthur should be here to tell his stories, with a twinkle in his eye as he spins tales about how he came to have a missing finger. But this is the first year without Aunt Lucy, and when Uncle Arthur arrives, there’s no twinkle to be found and no stories waiting to be told. Faith is certain, though, that with a little love and patience, she and Peter might finally learn the truth about that missing finger. Paired with warm, expressive illustrations by Amy June Bates, this heartfelt tale by award-winning poet Helen Frost highlights the strength of family and the power of a good story.

This is a wonderful story about family tradition and lore, loss and love.

One of the good ones

26 Sep

Today, we begin the 4th week of school. That means my students and I have been together 19 school days. It seems like more. I mean that in a good way, that it seems as though we’ve known each other more than 19 days. The first day of school feels a long time ago. And yet, the last day is so far in the future it is unimaginable.

In John David Anderson’s Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, a trio of sixth grade boys skip school to spend one last day with their teacher who has been hospitalized with cancer.

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Publisher’s Summary: Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.

Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Ms Bixby is, what the boys call, “one of the good ones”. She makes a difference in a way I think we all wanted to when we decided to join the profession. She inspires and brings things out in these boys that feel real. I am not ashamed to admit that I simultaneously laughed and cried as Steve, begins to sing

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.

I’m thinking that this one might be a read aloud. It will certainly be the subject of a book talk soon.

 

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