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A place for everyone

11 May

I was never the coolest kid. Maybe that’s why I like the quirky kids in class. Maybe they are just really interesting. Like the kids in Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe.


Publisher’s Summary: In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Sometimes four can do what one cannot. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms. The acclaimed author of Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls writes with an authentic, humorous, and irresistible tween voice that will appeal to fans of Thanhha Lai and Rita Williams-Garcia.

I like the voices of these kids – they ring true. You can tell when an author really gets how kids think, and Erin Entrada Kelly really gets it. This is a lovely story of friendship that celebrates the differences in all of us.

This week’s booktalks 5/1-5

5 May

Another funny week where I was away from kids for 2 days, so I only booktalked three books.


I had a hard time getting going Monday morning, but booktalking William Wenton and the Impossible Puzzle  was easy.


Publisher’s Summary: Blackthorn Key meets The Da Vinci Code in this award-winning novel about a puzzle-solving genius who is forced to use his skills to face a danger that has been lurking in the background for years.

Twelve-year-old William Wenton is a puzzle-solving genius. He lives with his family in a quiet Norwegian town. They used to live in England, but eight years ago his family suddenly packed up, moved away, and even changed their last name! Neither of his parents will offer an explanation or tell William why he has to keep his talent for solving codes and puzzles a secret. But then a special exhibit comes to the local museum: the Impossible Puzzle. The experts say it is unsolvable, but William’s sure that he can crack it if he gets a chance.

However, when he does, everything begins to go wrong. Suddenly William is whisked off to a strange school filled with robots and kids whose skills are almost as good as his own. But what’s really going on? And what’s the secret involving William’s grandfather? And is there anyone he can trust?


I don;t often read sports books, and I don’t have many in my classroom collection (only one tub) but Rooting for Rafael Rosales is a good one and shows how a kid might not be able to change the world, but they can make a difference in one person’s life.


Publisher’s Summary: Rafael has dreams. Every chance he gets he plays in the street games trying to build his skills, get noticed by scouts, and—someday—play Major League Baseball. Maya has worries. The bees are dying all over the world, and the company her father works for is responsible, making products that harm the environment. Follow Rafael and Maya in a story that shifts back and forth in time and place, from Rafael’s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. In their own ways, Maya and Rafael search for hope, face difficult choices, and learn a secret—the same secret—that forever changes how they see the world.


This was a kooky weather week that started off in the normal, low 60’s F, jumped to the 80’s Wednesday and Thursday and is back to slightly lower than normal mid 50’s today. It needed a book that was funny and fantasy at the same time. The Apprentice Witch  seemed to fit the bill.


Publisher’s Summary: Arianwyn has fluffed her witch’s evaluation test.

Awarded the dull bronze disc and continuing as an apprentice – to the glee of her arch-rival, mean girl Gimma – she’s sent to protect the remote, dreary town of Lull.

But her new life is far from boring. Turns out Gimma is the pompous mayor’s favourite niece – and worse, she opens a magical rift in the nearby Great Wood. As Arianwyn struggles with her spells, a mysterious darkness begins to haunt her – and it’s soon clear there’s much more than her pride at stake …

Princesses and the Rule of Three

1 May

One of my favorite memories of working in the William Walker library was reading Robert Munsch’s The Paperbag Princess to a first grade class, as part of a Robert Munsch author study.

downloadOne of the girls in that class, was obsessed with Disney princess books. When I read the end, where Princess Elizabeth tell Prince Ronald he is  a bum, the look on the girl’s face was priceless.

During our author study, we observed that Robert Munsch had each of his protagonists face their problem three times.


In her newest book, Princess Cora and the Crocodile, written by Laura Amy Schlitz and 61Y26+r7DzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_illustrated by Brian Floca, the protagonist has three people who stand in her way of having an enjoyable life: her nanny, he mother and her father.  Like Robert Munsch, there is a repetitive, familiar rhythm to each of these encounters that helps young readers predict and anticipate what is about to come.

Princess Cora’s problems are very much, first world problems, but many children with resonate with the lack of control in their own lives.

Publisher’s Summary: A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Medalist join forces to give an overscheduled princess a day off — and a deliciously wicked crocodile a day on.

Princess Cora is sick of boring lessons. She’s sick of running in circles around the dungeon gym. She’s sick, sick, sick of taking three baths a day. And her parents won’t let her have a dog. But when she writes to her fairy godmother for help, she doesn’t expect that help to come in the form of a crocodile—a crocodile who does not behave properly. With perfectly paced dry comedy, children’s book luminaries Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca send Princess Cora on a delightful outdoor adventure — climbing trees! getting dirty! having fun! — while her alter ego wreaks utter havoc inside the castle, obliging one pair of royal helicopter parents to reconsider their ways.



The Power Outage – A Slice of Life Story

11 Apr

I didn’t notice the high winds last Friday until I was almost at school. As I drove down the street in front of my school, the trees were waving manically and I could hear the gusts. I leaned into the wind as I walked from my car, thankful that there was no rain.

I got up to my classroom and set about getting ready for my day, knowing I had four students coming for our last practice before Saturday’s OBOB state tournament. Just after 8, the lights went out. Fortunately, my windowless room has an emergency light. It was dark, but not impossible to work.

As classes came in, I spoke in a whisper voice and the 6th graders rolled with it. It was the quietest day ever. Students seemed to enjoy the “mood lighting” as wrote their sci-fi stories and presented what they noticed about Jack London’s writing. It was all very civilized.

The power came back on around 1:30. As soon as it did, the class erupted in cheers and applause. And that was the end of civilization.


We Are The Champions!

9 Apr

Friday was a bit topsy-turvy. It was our last day to practice before the State OBOB Tournament. A storm with high winds knocked out power at school and only half the team, both girls, arrived for our practice. It wasn’t until later we found out that the boys had been stopped at the door and refused entry. They were told the practice had probably been canceled. With no working phones, no one called and  had no idea the boys were downstairs.

Fortunately, Saturday, the day of the tournament had no weather drama to keep us from participating. All the team members and their families arrived and were excited to get things under way. We won both of our matches in pool play and ended up with 40 points overall. Not a bad score.

The hardest part came next – waiting for the announcement of the seeded “Sweet Sixteen” round. We were happy to find out we were in.


And weren’t we surprised to find out that we had come out 6th overall in pool play!

At this point, it was sudden death. Winners moved on and others  went home.The team from Vale were tough, but we managed to win after having the lead move back and forth a bit. We were on to the Elite Eight, which was another competitive match, but Stoller prevailed again. Our Final Four battle was against a school from our own district. Again, the two teams were very evenly matched, but we managed to be ahead at the end of the battle.


The Final Battle took place on the auditorium stage and was twice as long as the other battles: 16 In Which Book questions and 16 Content questions instead of the 8 of the other rounds.

Again, as one would expect at this level, the two teams were evenly matched. Cascade Middle School from Bend kept Stoller on their toes. Once more, each team led at different points in the battle, but, by the end of 32 questions, Stoller was ahead.

We were state champions!!


Although the trophy will spend the next year in Stoller’s trophy cabinet, it is spending the rest of the weekend with me and might spend a day or two in my classroom, too.

And so, I am putting OBOB to bed for another year. Well, I will, just as soon as my order for next year’s books arrive.

Starting over

26 Mar

Knitting socks is one of my small pleasures. In the last month I have made several pairs using hand dyed yarn, using the same pattern. But, sometimes I need a change and when my February Herstory skein arrived in a solid color, I knew I would need a different pattern.

I chose a pattern I’d knit a few years ago for my sister. It has a strong texture pattern, that shows off the yarn, and looks much harder than it is. It is really all math and repeated patterns.

The thing about knit socks is that you knit them to fit. The directions tell you to make the foot a certain length, knowing that every foot is different. the once place you can generally count on being accurate is the toe length.

The pattern I was knitting said I should repeat the foot pattern 10 times, but it should measure “2-1/4″ (5.5cm) less than the desired total length”. I have small feet so knew I probably wouldn’t have to do 10, I did nine, tried them on and decided it was the right place to stop the foot pattern and begin decreasing for the toe.

As always, I tried it on as soon as it the ends were woven in and I was disappointed. They were just a little too short. I let them sit overnight.

The next morning I got my scissors and cut the toe. I pulled on the ends, taking away the little shreds and began the unravelling of the toe. It was over in a matter of minutes. I picked up the stitches , unknit one more row, then began adding one more round of the foot pattern before knitting the new toe.

And voilà, a sock that fits.


I know many people who like to knit two at a time on circular needles to prevent second sock syndrome (After having finished one sock it becomes difficult to go on and finish the second one to make a pair). I prefer the traditional one at a time, on double-pointed straight needles. Call me old-fashioned, but this time it served me well, because I might have had to rip out two toes.


23 Mar

Although the students I teach are gifted, they have, for the most part, led sheltered lives. They can read difficult texts, but sometimes lack the maturity or life experience to understand everything. It is a challenge to be a gifted 6th grade reader.

As a result, students occasionally come across words in their reading that they don’t know. Some of them skip the words, some of them look them up, and a few come to ask me. I almost never decline. I want them to know they can ask me anything. I will occasionally give a quick definition coupled with encouragement to get more details from a parent, but I will always tell them something.

The best one came today. We read Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” which contains the lines

From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward  to a civilization.

As students were annotating the text, a boy asked me what “loins” meant. I might have used the term “downstairs” and mentioned the body between the belly button and knees. He nodded and understood.

Another student sitting nearby overheard our conversation. I saw the color drain from his face as he said, “Like pork loin?”

I could imagine what he was thinking, so I said, “That comes from a pig’s side.” I wasn’t sure that was true, but I didn’t want to ruin pork loin for him forever.


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