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Soccer Goals

24 Nov


When I saw my class list in late August I noticed a name I recognized and knew to be a naughty boy. I was surprised when there was none of the naughtiness I anticipated. Instead, I found a young man who has to work hard at school, but was a positive influence. I just figured he had matured.

At conferences, his mother told me that he was on a soccer team and his coach had very high scholastic expectations for his players. If they don’t do their homework or get in trouble at school, they don’t play, or might even lose their place on the team. Soccer has really turned this boy around.

In Eugene Yelchin’s Arcady’s Goal,  Arcady is an excellent soccer player, but lives a bleak life in an orphanage, the son of, what Stalinist Russia called, “enemies of the people”. One day his life changes and he is adopted by one of the orphanage inspectors. Believing the inspector is actually recruiting youth players for the Soviet’s greatest team -the Red Army- in disguise, Arcady calls his new benefactor Coach, and treats him like one, always trying to impress Coach with his skills. Ivan lives up to his new title, creating a youth soccer team just for Arcady to play on. There is no escape from the labels Stalinism has put on Arcady and Coach. However, as they learn to live together, they learn that this might be the glue holding their relationship together.

Short chapters and pencil sketches keep the reader interested. I think I might like this book even more than I liked Breaking Stalin’s Nose,  which was a 2012 Newbery Honor winner. The author;s note at the end is beautiful and heart-breaking.

Ursula Le Guin and The Princess in Black

21 Nov

Did you see or hear Ursula Le Guin’s acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014?

Like many people she was one of the first science fiction/fantasy writers I ever read.I was probably in my teens.  There certainly wasn’t much of anything science fiction or fantasy-like  for me before I was a teen.

Nowadays, there is so much more for kids. A nice little entry level book is The Princess in Black written  by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham.



I have a girl in my class who is really into superheroes. This is a little young for her, but wouldn’t it have been great if this had been around when she was  in kindergarten or first grade!

Goodreads Summary:Who says princesses don’t wear black? When trouble raises its blue monster head, Princess Magnolia ditches her flouncy dresses and becomes the Princess in Black!

Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when . . . Brring! Brring! The monster alarm! A big blue monster is threatening the goats! Stopping monsters is no job for dainty Princess Magnolia. But luckily Princess Magnolia has a secret —she’s also the Princess in Black, and stopping monsters is the perfect job for her! Can the princess sneak away, transform into her alter ego, and defeat the monster before the nosy duchess discovers her secret? From award-winning writing team of Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham, here is the first in a humorous and action-packed chapter book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black.

If you know a young person who loves superheroes, this is a wonderful read for them. I also think it would be great to shake things up a little and see what ahoys would think about this book. It would pair nicely with Robert Munsch’s The Paperbag Princess. 


I still smile thinking about the time I read it to a class of first graders. When we got to the end a sweet little girl named Mina had a look of horror on her face. That wasn’t the ending she was expecting. Success!

Easy chapter books

20 Nov

One of our easier OBOB (Oregon Battle of the Books) titles is The Trouble With Chickens by Doreen Cronin.


All the adults who have read it think it is wonderfully funny. The 4th graders I know who have read it like it less. I think they think it is beneath them. It is an easy chapter book and thin. Yesterday, at our OBOB meeting, one student actually said to me, “I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but I do. I choose them if they have bright colors and are thick.”

I haven’t really followed the adventures of JJ and the chicks since the book came out in 2011. Since then, Cronin has publish one other JJ Tully mystery,  The Legend of Diamond Lil (2012).


She has also created a spin off series about the chicks, The Chicken Squad, two books of which were published this year.

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These are even easier chapter books than the JJ Tully mysteries, with a larger font, but still maintaining the chapter book format.

If you have kids ready to move on to chapter books, give JJ and the Chicken Squad a try.

Three books

21 Aug

At my meeting yesterday, one of the icebreaker things we had to do was write down 3 books we thought every elementary student should read by the time they leave for middle school. You could feel the buzz in the room. People had lots of ideas, but no one started to write. The hard part was limiting it to three.

My first one was my first book love,  The Story of Ferdinand  by Munro Leaf.


It’s an old book, but when I read it lo, those many years ago, my eyes were opened. I was just like Ferdinand and I had never realized that I could identify so closely with the character in a book. Disney turned it into cartoon in 1938.

Next on my list was Frindle by Andrew Clements.


This was Clements’ first book and it is a wonderful tale about creative thought and the power of words.Brian Selznick’s black-and-white illustrations enhance the humor in this unforgettable story.

Finally, I chose a newer book, one that resonated with me very powerfully the first time I read it, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.


Just thinking about the book makes me get all soft & mushy inside.

As the day wore on, I added a few titles to my list, as did other people, but I wonder, what three books of you think  every elementary student should read by the time they leave for middle school

Search and Rescue

3 Dec

Hard to believe it looking at me now, as I teeter on the edge of 50, but I spent a large part of my teen & young adult years as a lifeguard. That, combined with teaching swimming lessons at all levels, made me decide to become a teacher.

In Mountain Dog a novel in verse by Margarita Engle,


Tony is sent to the mountains to live with his great uncle, Tio Leo because his mother has been sent to prison for keeping pit bulls and holding dog fights. This has left Tony scarred. But his Tio Leo is a gentle man who works in search & rescue with his dog, Gabe. In alternating voices, Tony and Gabe tell the story of Tony’s transition from scared  boy with an uncertain future, to a young man who sees his purpose in  life. The  black and white illustrations, by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, added nicely to the story.

A good read for kids 8-12 who love animal books.

Of JAWS, Neil Gaiman, and the funny things dads do

2 Dec

My Uncle Don died in the summer of 1975. The funeral was far away (Timmins I think) and Mom went to the funeral, alone,  by train. She left us my twin sister and I alone with Dad for a week. Before she left she packed the freezer full of casseroles and gave explicit directions to everyone. We managed pretty well. The best weird thing that happened way that Dad took us to the drive-in theater. Guess what was playing.


That wouldn’t have happened if Mom had been home.

In Fortunately, the Milk, his new book for young readers, Neil Gaiman explores the idea of what might happen when Mom is gone and Dad is left in charge.


Like my mother, the mother of the story leaves two kids alone with their dad. She also leaves instructions and a freezer full of food. Gaiman’s mom leaves with the ominous reminder “Oh, and we’re almost out of milk. You’ll need to pick some up.”

They make it through the first night, but the first boring, Dad uses up all the milk in his coffee so there is none for the kids’ cereal. “You poor children,” he said. “I will walk down to the shop on the corner. I will get milk.”

The poor children have to wait a long time. When their father finally returns he has a story to tell that will knock your sicks off. His adventure is filled with hot air balloons, dinosaurs, aliens, ponies, vampires and a talking volcano. This is a fun and quirky adventure. It is also a short read that is enhanced by Skottie Young’s illustrations.



This would be a fun read a loud and I can imagine kids writing their own tale about what happens when someone other than their main caregiver is left in charge of their home.

Oh, that Kevin Henkes

18 Nov

We thought it was a good idea, so we played nicky-nicky nine doors at Pauline Mary Knowles’ house. You may have called it something else but that was our name for it. We were on our way home from roller skating on  Friday night in grade 8 and decided to play this little joke. We certainly didn’t expect Mr. Knowles to chase us down the street. He was really nice about the whole thing. But my sister and I felt guilty when we got home. Even though we tried to go to bed, we couldn’t sleep, so we got up and told our mom, who was also pretty nice about it, too.

I got thinking about this while reading Kevin Henkes’ Penny and Her Marble.


Penny finds a marble in her neighbor’s yard. Then, one day, she sees the neighbor and thinks she has lost the marble Penny now has, and loves. What should she do? The problem gnaws at her.


I won’t spoil the ending for you, but young Henkes’ fans will really enjoy this book.

For older readers, Henkes has  The Year of Billy Miller. 


This is a chapter book, cleverly divided into 4 chapters entitled Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. While moving the story along, each chapter gives us a glimpse into an aspect of Billy’s life. This is not a wacky novel full of second grade hijinks, but a quiet collection of important moments in a little boy’s life, that I think a lot of kids can connect with.

I always like to balance out my read alouds,  alternating male & female protagonists, action and quiet novels, comedy and drama. This would be an excellent read aloud right after something like Clementine. It is definitely well worth it.

Pigeonholing an author

4 Sep

I am sometimes surprised, and often excited when an author I thought of as one thing, writes outside my idea of them. In my mind, Lauren Myracle is a YA author, mostly because the first book of hers that I read, Shine, was targeted at that age group. She is often edgy and frequently controversial. According to the American Library Association, Myracle’s books were the most challenged books of 2009 and 2011. Her books continue to be challenged in school libraries, usually for scenes of alleged sexuality, homosexuality, or alcohol use.

Just to keep us on our toes, she has now entered the world of easy chapter books.  The Life of Ty:Penguin Problems returns to characters from The Winnie Years Series, focusing on Winnie’s younger brother, Ty.


Ty is s sensitive seven-year old. he has two older sisters and one baby sister. He’s stuck in the middle and feeling a little forlorn. Although the plot is more or less what you’d expect of a chapter book for this age group, what I like is how Myracle turns stereotypes upside down.

Ty is s sensitive male character. The rowdy and naughtiest lid in class is a girl. Nothing really earth-shaking, but planting seeds for kids to see the world beyond how it is so often portrayed. This book will be a less controversial than other Myracle has written and I think a lot of young readers will really enjoy this new series.

Crowns and Little Kingdoms

21 Aug

When I was a kid and my mom got really mad, she would often say “I’ll crown you!” to us. There is a family story that my eldest sister Karen once had the audacity to reply “Make mine pearls!”. It might have been diamonds.  Either way, it did not end well.

We are all kings & queens of our own little kingdoms, even Fiona & Lucy, who I often affectionately call Princess Pokeypants and Princess Poopypants. I  tell Fiona that she is the slowest dog in Christendom. Lucy doesn’t really poop her pants. She’s just cute.

Teachers are the kings & queens of their classrooms, though we don’t make the kids call us by anything other than our names. ( I once had a kid ask if he could call me Homey G.  I said no.) This year, we are adopting a pushing model for ESL and I am moving into someone else’s room. Each grade level has an assigned ESL teacher housed in another teacher’s classroom. The 4th grade team meets today to start working out how all this will work.There will require some negotiating of territory, professional and personal. The teacher whose room I am sharing has been very welcoming and is excited about our new co-teaching & collaboration model.

In Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, by Claudia Mills, Kelsey perceives herself as the Queen of Reading in her class.


When a reading contest is announced at school, Kelsey is determined to win. She scopes out her competition and comes up with a plan to determine if he’s cheating.

Claudia Mills gets kids. Every teacher has had a Kelsey, the kid who hides a book under the desk during Math to find out what happens.  In fact, the classroom I’m moving into will have 2 this year. Mills also understands the motivation of kids this year and how they come to understand the world. In her effort to get encourage the one kid in their class who isn’t reading for the contest, Kelsey struggles with her personal goal to win, but comes out a better person for it. In spying on  “the competition” she gets to know him better. In the end she makes 2 friends and that is a far better prize than winning the contest. although that’s pretty good, too.

The back cover indicates that there are 2 more books coming in the series, involving Kelsey’s 2 best friends: Annika Riz, Math Whiz  and Izzy Barr, Running Star.

Channeling Clementine

16 Aug

I have been a huge Clementine fan from her first appearance. In fact, when I adopted Fiona, who came with the unfortunate name of Yo-yo, I almost renamed her Clementine, just because of the books. She is very bassety. Clementine is frequently “distracted” by things when she is supposed to be doing what others want and then explains ” I was paying attention” and then says what she was paying attention to. If you’ve ever walked with a basset, you know that you might want to be moving forward, but they are frequently sidetracked and pay attention to things you don’t even see. I try to channel Clementine when I walk the girls.

I just reread Clementine for the 2013-14 Battle of the Books season (more on this later)


and then I read Clementine and the Spring Trip which came out earlier this year, but I’m finally getting to it.


And I am happy to say that this, the 6th book,is wonderful! And I love Margaret, who is the perfect OCD foil to Clementine’s ADD.  I love their interactions and how they have to negotiate their friendship.  In this book, a new girl named Olive arrives and Clementine is no longer the only student with a food name. Having just reread Clementine,  I can see how much she has grown up since that first book, but she is still sweetly naive and genuine as she tries to find her place in the world.

As always, Marla Frazee’s illustrations capture all the emotion & hilarity.

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