Sunday, September 9, 2018


I'm teaching three sections of sixth grade Language Arts this year. I'm loving it, but struggling to stay on top of the teaching, and also blog. Phew! One of the hardest things for me has been the 50 minute periods. That's not very much time at all. Before the year started, I promised myself that I was going to read aloud to my sixth graders every single day. Originally, I planned to read a chapter book, and had chosen, Dan Gemeinhart's SOME KIND OF COURAGE as my first read aloud. When the year started, however, I discovered I had three students who spoke no English, and three more with less than a year of English under their belts. I decided, then, to start with picture books. Each week I have chosen books that were somehow connected. Last week, I chose "friend" books. FRIENDS STICK TOGETHER, by Hannah E. Harrison, was my sixth graders' favorite read aloud. 

Rupert the Rhino is a bit staid. He likes reading the dictionary, listening to classical music, and eating cucumber sandwiches with no crusts. Levi the tickbird is quite the opposite- he loves corny jokes, armpit farts, and popping wheelies. Rupert is a more than a little unsettled when Levi moves in and upends his life by playing epic air guitar solos, burping the alphabet, and picking ticks off Rupert during lunch, "Tastes like chicken!"

Rupert does everything he can think of to get Levi to depart (one of my students' favorite pages was Rupert on the merry-go-round, using centrifugal force, and then barfing in the trash can). He finally asks Levi to leave, saying, "I find your boisterousness a tad loathsome," and "Your uncouthness is slightly problematic. Predictably, after Levi is gone, Rupert discovers that he misses him, and has to make a visit to Levi's trailer to invite him to come back.

My students and I loved pretty much everything about this book-- terrific humor, fun illustrations, and great vocabulary. I thought the design was total genius--Harrison begins and ends with a dictionary entry for the word symbiosis. We discussed this briefly when we started, I pointed out several examples during the book, and then we returned to it at the end. A few minutes later, during independent reading time, one of my students was thrilled to discover a section on symbiotic relationships in the WHO WILL WIN series. A perfect example of why it's important to read aloud to big kids!

Monday, September 3, 2018

EDUCATED by Tara Westover

I've been in the same book club for over twenty years. We aren't a super serious book club- pretty much, we choose a book the month, or maybe two months before, we read the book, or most of us read most of the book, we meet at a restaurant, we have food and adult beverages, we talk about the book for a little while, and then we move on and talk about other things. I generally am one of the people that read the book, but I often read it mostly in the week before book club. That didn't happen this month.

Our September choice is EDUCATED by Tara Westover. I bought the book right after our last book club, when I happened to be at a bookstore with my mom. It's pretty long, so I decided I was going to try to read a chapter a day, to get through it by September 15. By Friday, I was about a third of the way in. I had had a really long week at school, and Friday night on the back porch with a book sounded just about perfect. I picked up EDUCATED, and before I knew it, it was Saturday night, and the housework wasn't done, but EDUCATED was. And all I can say is, "Phew! What a read!"

EDUCATED is a memoir by Tara Westover, who was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho. Westover was homeschooled until the age of 16, but most of her homeschooling consisted of working in her father's junkyard, often under really dangerous conditions. Westover and her siblings never went to the doctor, were never exposed to people of other races, had never even heard of the Holocaust. At 16, Tara, like one of her older brothers, left the family compound and went to BYU, then to Cambridge and Harvard. EDUCATION is the story of her transformation. It's a powerful and eye opening story.

For me, though, the book spoke loudly about the experiences a reader brings to the page, and how that impacts the reader, and that's what I have continued to think about A subplot of the book, which actually plays a really central role, is about Westover's father, who she believes to be bipolar, and his impact on the family. Another subplot focuses on one of Tara's brothers, who also appeared to have mental health issues, and was physically and verbally abusive to his sisters and others in the community, but was defended and protected by his parents.  Those stories spoke loudly to me, maybe even more loudly than the story of Westover's education.

I leave the book with a zillion questions. What responsibility does a parent have to protect his/her children from the other parent, if he/she is mentally ill? Or from his/her siblings? At one point does one renounce his or her own children? When is it acceptable to renounce one's own family?

A thought provoking, disturbing and exhausting read.

Friday, August 10, 2018

PICTURE BOOK 10 for 10

Picture Book 10-for-10 is one of my favorite days of the entire year! It's the day I have to hide my debit card, so I don't go totally out of control buying all of the new books that people share. Some years I am wonderfully clever, and actually have a theme. This year I'm just sharing some books that I am looking forward to reading when school starts next year. You can check out a zillion great collections (remember to hide your debit card first!) in the Google PB 10-for-10 community.

by Ryan T. Higgins
When Penelope Rex arrives at the first day of school, she discovers that all of her classmates are children. She eats them, because children are delicious. The next day she goes back with good intentions, but again accidentally eats a classmate. It takes Walter, the class goldfish, to teach her an important lesson. Thanks to the ever brilliantTamara Jaimes for sharing this one with me!

as told by Dave Horowitz
Once there was an old stonecutter named Stanley (who just happens to be a frog). He was good at his job, but stonecutting was hard and Stanley wanted to do something a little easier. On the way back from the quarry, one day, he noticed a businessman sipping tea, and wished he could do that. And somehow magically he was a businessman, and then the king, and then he got tired of that and wanted to be the sun and, well you get the picture! Be sure to read the author's note at the beginning

Minh Le and Dan Santat
An Asian grandfather babysits his very assimilated American grandson. At first, the two don't seem to have much to say to each other, but then their sketchbooks create common ground.

by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz
Every time Wilson goes to visit his grandmother, he makes a promise about all of the things he wants to do to her old rundown house. Gigi assures him that she is just fine, and that he is enough for her. Wilson also tells other people, including the ice cream man and the librarian, about Gigi's house, and one day the community arrives to help.

by Liz Garton Scanlon and Lee White

Once there was a man
living all alone in a creaky 
house on the tip-top of a steep hill.

All is well until the wind starts to blow. 

The wind blew until the 
shutters banged in the creaky 
house on the tip-top of the
steep hill.
The wind blew, the
shutters banged, and
the boards bent. 

The man is sad until a little girl named Kate arrives and plants trees. A lovely cumulative picture book about our ability to take care of our world and about  the power of trees.

by Troy Hall and Richard Jones

Wednesday the Whale lives in a fishbowl. One day, a little girl named Piper approaches the bowl and tells Wednesday that she's lovely, but that she doesn't belong in there. Her words give Wednesday the courage to try something new. Pair this one with Dan Santat's AFTER THE FALL.

by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Matt Hunt
A family moves into a new house, only to discover that there is a walrus in the bathtub. The funnest part of this book is that each page is a different list, e.g. Bad things about having a walrus in the bathtub: 1) Clam shells  2) Screechy seagulls, 3) Bathtub tidal waves. A few pages later: Ways to try to get a walrus out of the bathtub: 1) Have a clam giveaway  2) Dress up like a killer whale  3) Dress your dad up like a lady walrus. 

by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas, illustrated by Nicola Slater
A beautiful story about the never-ending life of a tree. Based on these Wisconsin authors actual experiences-- a tree on Surratt's property is first home to animals, then a little girl's rope swing, built by a loving grandfather. Finally the tree succumbs to Dutch Elm disease and the community comes together to build a tree house around its trunk.

words by Sally Lloyd-Jones
pictures by Leo Espinosa

Three goldfish, Barracuda, Patch, and Fiss, live in a tall apartment building that overlooks an old broken-down fountain. One summer, a man arrives to fix the fountain, and then invites all of the goldfish  in the neighborhood to go on vacation for the summer. An author's note says that this is based on an actual fountain, the Hamilton Fountain, in New York City. 

by David Covell

Hey, you.
Sky's blue!
(forget your shoes)
that door

Sprout, you're out!
Chase the wind
     can you grab it?
A joyful, rhythmic poetic picture book about a child playing outside on a barefoot summer day.

Monday, August 6, 2018


One of the things I love most about summer is the opportunity to do more adult reading.  A couple of books from the summer…

THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Clemantine Wamariya was six when she and an older sister, Claire, fled their family's home to escape the genocide in Rwanda. Together, the two journeyed from refugee camp to refugee camp to refugee camp in Africa, and ultimately ended up in Illinois. This was a hard, sad book for me, but also a book that grew my understandings of the Rwandan genocide and of the challenges some of my immigrant children face. 

I can't remember where I heard about this book, first published in 2012, but evidently a lot of other people heard about it too, because I was on a wait list for six weeks at the library. Goff is a lawyer, and adjunct law professor at Pepperdine University, and most importantly a follower of Christ. Goff is also the founder of an organization that fights for children's rights in countries like Uganda, Nepal, and Iraq. This book is a series of short narratives, all stories from Goff's life, and the lessons or truths he has learned from each of these times. A couple of favorite quotes…

The world can make you think that love can be picked up at a garage sale or enveloped in a Hallmark card. But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s  a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright. What I learned from Randy about the brand of love Jesus offers is that it’s more about presence than undertaking a project. It’s a brand of love that doesn’t just think about good things, or agree with them, or talk about them. What I learned from Randy reinforced the simple truth that continues to weave itself into the tapestry of every great story: Love does.  pp 8-9

Maybe Jesus wants us to be secretly incredibly instead. That was His plan for self-promotion. Secretly incredible people keep what they do one of God’s best kept secrets because the only one who needs to know, the God of the universe, already knows. 160

God pursues us into whatever dark place we’ve landed and behind whatever locked door holds us in. He holds our unwashed and dirty hands and models how He wants us to pursue each other. Sometimes that means picking up a phone and asking a stranger to do something crazy at first. He invites us to leave perfectly fine careers like Charlie did, and rather than having us apply for a position, He says our lives are the position. And He says to ordinary people like me and you, that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead. 181

Friday, July 27, 2018


Parsons Beach, Kennebunkport, Maine

Last week I was on vacation. Four days with dear friends in New Hampshire. Three days in a fabulous class, "The Power of Narrative," with Tom Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher, and Penny Kittle, and then three days soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean at a beautiful little beach in Maine. After I came back, Ralph emailed me (or wrote a comment on my Facebook page). I have been thinking about that line all week. Last night and this morning, I tried to make it into a golden shovel poem. Not sure I was totally successful, I had trouble with the lines that ended with "I" and "you."

Mermaid Dreams

I am fairly certain that
will soon become a mermaid, or at least I hope
that might be true. You 
might also consider this possibility, soaked 
in sand, sun, sea spray, the 
peace and power of the beach
travelling into 
the pores of your 
tired soul and healing your world worn heart.

Carol Wilcox

Catherine, at Reading to the Core, is hosting Poetry Friday. You'll definitely want to stop by- she's giving away a copy of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong's latest collection, GREAT MORNING: POEMS FOR SCHOOL LEADERS TO READ ALOUD.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

CYBER PD- Chapters 5 and 6

I'm participating in #CYBERPD this summer. This is my very late reflection on Chapters 5 and 6.

My superintendent is resigning, after ten years at a very hard job. At our first meeting of the year, he reflected on some of his accomplishments and then asked us to consider, "What do you want your legacy to be?" And of course, the first thing that popped into my head was that I wanted my students to be lifelong readers and writers. But, then, as I really thought about it, I realized it's really bigger than that. 

I want kids to be readers and writers, because I want them to be ready to live big in the world.   I want them to be ready to make a difference. I want them to understand that everyone has their own story. I want them to listen to other people's stories with grace and compassion. And I want them to be people who have the skills to tell their own stories, both verbally and in writing. 

And as much as I want those things for them, I want them for myself.  

I want to be a listener. A real listener. Someone who listens to understand. Not just someone who listens so that I can rebut, or have my turn to talk. I want this to be true in my professional life and I want it to be true in my personal life. I want to be slower to judge and slower to discount opinions that are different from my own.

I want to get out of my own echo chamber. It's so easy to hang out with people who believe/like the same things as I do. In the current political climate, I think that's especially true. It's hard for me to listen to people who support our current leader, even to read articles or watch their news shows, but I feel like I really need to at least try. I need to try to understand. 

That's true in my professional life as well.   I read a lot of professional literature, but I mostly read texts by people who believe the same things as I do. I think that's also true of children's literature. It seems like the same authors get promoted again and again and again. I want to push beyond those boundaries, to follow new blogs and new people, to explore new ideas and methods. 

I want to commit to a learning stance. I don't want to get out of my "echo chamber" only to say I'm getting out of my echo chamber, I want to go into interactions (with people and text) ready to learn and be changed. I really do want, as Ahmed suggests, to say, “OK, I know my truths, but I am going to listen and accept what this other person is saying also as a truth." And then I want to say, “What do I DO with these new truths?”

Get proximate to the human story. I want to be a doer. I want to get my hands dirty. To care enough to take action. And I want my students to do that too. I want us to pick a cause, either collectively or individually. Global warming? Plastic in the oceans? Gun control or gang violence in Denver? Gentrification in our school neighborhood? Our burr-ridden school playground? I want kids to choose a cause that is bigger than themselves, to research it, to develop a plan, and to take action. I want kids to learn that they can make a difference in the world.

I want to shine a spotlight on the upstanders. In my own life. In my classroom. In my school. In the world. The world seems so very dark right now. And it's easy to get caught up in all that darkness. I want to make conscious efforts, every single day, in my postings on social media, and in my dealings with my students, and others, to shine a spotlight. To bring joy. To bring hope and light.

I want to be proactive with my privilege. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" As an educated, middle class white woman, I have lots of privileges that others- my sons, my students and their families- don't have. Because of that, it really is my job to stay informed, to raise awareness, and to advocate for others.

I've been an educator for over thirty years. Pretty much every year, I have participated or developed some activity or program, formal or informal, to help kids develop their social awareness, to be kinder or more caring. A lot of it is pretty much just lip service. I have loved BEING THE CHANGE, because I feel like it's a book I can use, both to make change in the world, and to help kids make change in the world as well.

Thank you, Sara K Ahmed, for this very powerful book. I can't wait to start implementing these practices in my classroom.

Monday, July 23, 2018


Yikes! I've finished reading BEING THE CHANGE, and have pages and pages of notes, but somehow, I'm way behind on my responses. I'm not a very good group member this year! So sorry to all of my colleagues...

MicroAggression: Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional , which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” Dr. Derald Wing, Columbia University, quoted in Ahmed, p. 58.

Micro aggressions. It's so easy to think of those that have been committed against me. Shorty. Four eyes. You've never been married? Aren't you retired yet? I laugh them off, and yet even so, they really do hurt a little.

And then I think of those committed by well-meaning educators on a daily basis.

Not quite ten years ago. Two weeks into the school year. My phone rings and I see a number from the school district. It is my oldest son's English teacher. She introduces herself, and then explains that she is calling to talk about independent reading. Several times a week, students in her class are given time to read independently. They need to bring a book so they are prepared for independent reading. My oldest son, it seems, has not been doing this. She wonders if I could help? Do we have any books at our house? If not, she can help him check one out from the school library. I look at the two groaning, seven-foot bookshelves in my dining room, think of the teetering piles in my office, or the garage full of boxes of books, and assure her that we can probably find at least one book at our house.

The call amuses me more than a little, but at the same time, it's really not funny. I imagine the teacher pulling up my son's name on our district website. Making assumptions about my son. About our family. African American boy. IEP. Athlete. Single parent. Probably no books in the home. She does not know that I am a past president of the state reading association. Or that I am a teacher. She really does want to help my son.

This is maybe an extreme case, and yet I see teachers, including myself, commit micro aggressions all the time. These are the first few that came to mind:

1) The child shows up without school supplies.
Her parents expect me to supply everything.
Reality: The family is one step away from homelessness. They either pay the rent, and buy groceries, or they send school supplies. Hard choices.

2) The family is 15 minutes late, pretty much every day.
That mom needs to get organized. She needs to get her kids up earlier and get to school on time.
Reality: Mom is a cleaning lady at a hospital. She puts her kids to bed, and then goes to work. She gets off at 7:30, and races home to pick up her children. Even so, they are ten minutes late every day.

3) The parents that don't show up for Back-To-School Night or miss parent teacher conferences.
You know why that child isn't doing very well in school.
Reality: The single mom doesn't have any one to watch younger children, or doesn't have transportation to get to special events.

4) The child that is severely overweight, but comes with a large bag of chips, no fruit or veggies, every day.
That family doesn't care about their child's nutrition. Someone should call social services and report them for child abuse.
Reality: The school is located in a food desert. The family doesn't have a working vehicle. The local 7-11 is where they grocery shop. Sometimes there is fruit, mostly there is not. There are never vegetables. Convenience stores don't stock perishable goods.

5) The child has failed the last 3 (you fill in the blanks).
Teacher: You need to work harder. You need to study more after school.
Student: I do study. But it's hard to find a quiet place.
Teacher: Just go to your room and study

Reality: Seven people are living in a two bedroom apartment. There's no place to go to be alone. 

This chapter reminds me that all of us really do the best we can, pretty much every day. It's important to treat each other gently.