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Guest blogging over at The Hub

10 Jan

I am the guest blogger over at The Hub. In anticipation of the Youth Media Awards later this month,  I wrote a piece called “A Morris Award Reflection” about Morris Award finalists from my year  on that committee. Please click on the link above to see what I got up to.

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Cybils Reading, Part 1

2 Jan

For the fourth time in five years, I am a Round 2 Cybils Judge for Junior and Senior High nonfiction. Guess what I’m reading (or rereading) for the next month. Yup, excellent nonfiction for older kids. Here are the Junior High Nonfiction Finalists.


Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything
by Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press

1968 was a difficult year for the United States, but it ended with at least one bright spot—the successful mission to orbit the moon. 50 years later, Sandler expertly reveals the true tale of Apollo 8 from many important angles: the science and technology behind the mission, the lives of the individuals involved in making it happen, and the cultural and historical relevance of both the mission itself and its most iconic image, the Earthrise photograph. The gorgeous design and absorbing storytelling combine to offer something for every reader.


Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam
by Elizabeth Partridge
Viking Books for Young Readers

A stirring account of the Vietnam War told in a mix of profiles of prominent Americans and memories of those who were there. Context and large black-and-white photographs are woven in, but the focus remains on the personal stories, creating a moving, compelling, and immediate look at the war.

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster
by Patricia Sutton
Chicago Review Press

Patricia Sutton explores why the Eastland disaster has been unknown for so long in a riveting, page-turning history for YA readers. Capsized! is told through firsthand accounts of responders and survivors of this Chicago River passenger ship tragedy. Archive photos give readers glimpses into the lives of the passengers and stand as reminders of forgotten history. A highly worthwhile read and exceptionally documented history.

Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin
by James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press

Swanson has written another compelling narrative account of a heinous crime. Just as in his two previous assassination accounts, Swanson gives the reader both the before and after of King’s assassination. While the book is not a full length biography of Martin Luther King Jr. Swanson does provide enough information to give the reader context and understanding as to why someone might want to kill the man. Using a plethora of sources (which are thoroughly documented at the end of the book), Swanson walks the reader through the days leading up to the assassination and the days following. The book takes the reader past the violence, past the funeral, past Ray’s sentencing, followed by his ongoing efforts to prove his innocence and his escape attempts. The photographs provide a particularly powerful picture of events shared in the book. But after all is said and done, after the burial, and the sentencing, and everything else, one question remains: why did Ray kill Martin Luther King, Jr.? We will likely never know as Ray spent the remaining years of his life denying that he’d done it at all.

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man
by Tonya Bolden
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Author Tonya Bolden believes there is more to reveal about one man known mostly for his autobiography of emancipation. She has written this illuminating, well-researched biography for YA readers about his character and contributions as a statesman, publisher and suffragist. A unique design feature of Facing Frederick is the use of famous daguerreotype photos of Douglass as focal points on the timeline of his life.

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
by Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek Books
Nominated by ME!

Author Gail Jarrow reflects on how far hoaxes can undermine trust in legitimate sources in this exceptional history about the 1938 radio broadcast of a Martian invasion. Hoax aficionados will find the well-designed book both informational and engrossing reading. A nifty graphic spread reveals the level of audience outrage from excerpts of letters, postcards and telegrams CBS received following the radio broadcast. Published complete with timeline, a “More to Explore” section, source notes, selected bibliography and index.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition)
by Sam Kean
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

This young reader’s edition of a 2010 title takes readers on a rollicking journey through the periodic table. In addition to the science of each element, Kean focuses on the personal stories of the scientists involved and the history of the element—including everything from what it’s been used for to the role it plays in current and historical pop culture.

The New Calendar

1 Jan

Mom once told me it was bad luck to hang up a new calendar too early. Or look through the pictures. Or Hang it open. To be honest, I can’t really remember what superstition she told me. Whatever it was, it has morphed into my own tradition of prepping the new calendar on New Year’s morning.

I used to spend a lot of time in bookshops picking out the “right” calendar that would set the tone for year. Nowadays, I order two different basset hound calendars from charities and hang one at home and one at school. The school calendar is on my desk at school,  waiting patiently for me to return next week.

I’ll set to work on the home calendar shortly. It is a bittersweet job. I get to look at the year that was as I flip through the old to add the birthdays and anniversaries I mark. There are some happy events and some sad memories that come together to give me sense of the year that was. When I have finished the writing, I will place that calendar on its spot on the kitchen wall and start building new memories.



16 Oct

In the 24 conferences I had last week, several parents brought up their child’s handwriting. A few asked, “Do you teach cursive?”

I gave them our standard 6th grade answer: Yes, their work should be neat. No, we don’t teach cursive – we ask that they use whichever form of writing is neatest.

During one conference I had a sudden realization. The papers each of the three Core teachers had prepared perfectly illustrated my point. The Math teacher printed his comments by hand, in red pen. The Science teacher wrote hers on the computer, in Apple Chancery, a friendly font. My comments were written in cursive, green ink on green paper. They perfectly illustrated the point I was trying to make.




2 Oct

I have snippets of stories everywhere.

I don’t mean the myriad tales of my life tucked away in my head. Yes, there are lots of stories there, many of which have yet to be told.

I mean written-down snippets – long and short pieces. Some at home in a journal. Some here in this blog. Some in notebooks at school.

And those notebooks served me well yesterday.

Grade 6 Personal narrative unit.

We were doing a lesson on elaboration and adding scenes. I looked over the narratives I’d been modeling for the class. They’d been thoroughly revised and didn’t really have what I needed, so I culled through my old writer’s notebooks at school and found the just right piece. It was a narrative I’d written in 2015 and had an ideal place for me to elaborate on a scene and another where I could add a scene.

Sometimes, teaching feels like performance art and yesterday I was at the top of my game. I pulled out that notebook. With my students seated in the carpeted area, I stretched my hands out to grab my invisible steering wheel and I rehearsed the story of my drive to the emergency vet. My hands shook. My body was tense. My voice quiet.

When they went back to their seats, they were at the top of their games, too.



Life on the move

24 Sep



Kids shouldn’t have to wish for a toilet, but Felix does. That’s because he and his mom are living in their Westfalia van. They’d had a house, but  due to a series of unfortunate events, they became homeless.

Nielsen does a great job illustrating what it is like to be homeless – how to tay clean, eat, cover-up that you aren’t – in a way that let’s the reader understand how exhausting it can be. I loved Felix’s voice. He felt like an authentic 7th grader and I pictured him in the halls of my middle school, trying to keep everything together. When you pick up the book, keep an eye on Mr. & Mrs. Ahmadi. They are the real heroes of this story.



Thank you, Universe!

11 Sep

I may have mentioned my deal with the universe, the one where, if the Universe let me stay in 6th grade, I would go to Outdoor School this year and not grumble about it.

There were many reasons why I didn’t go last year. one of them had to do with compensation. Teachers had to be away from home for three nights, with no financial compensation and I was going to be out-of-pocket for Lucy’s boarding fees. All teachers were given was an additional personal day.

Yesterday, at my union meeting I found out that we are going to be remunerated for those three nights at a rate that made me cheer.

I have several months yet to think up the woodsy name I will put on my wood cookie nametag.


Look out Outdoor School. Here I come!

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