Friday, December 12, 2014


Last week, I read an advent devotional about the Celts' concept of "thin places," those times in life when the heavens thin and the God seems especially close. I totally love teaching, and know, at the absolute depth of my being, that I am doing what I am called to do. It's not surprising to me, then, that many of my thin places occur in that arena. This morning, I'm sharing a few of those with you. (The past couple of weeks, I have been writing haiku with Mary Lee, so that's what the first two are, or at least pretty close).

Kindergarten Reader

I’m getting smarter
she proclaims, finger meeting print
a one girl marching band
(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Middle School Lunch Duty
Yes, I will guard your
lunch boxes, glasses, romances
family secrets, dreams
(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

 And one I couldn't quite get into a haiku---

"In the Cafeteria"

hey you, 
long tongue outstretched, 
how you can lick 
chocolate pudding 
off the end of your nose, 
I see that chrysalis cracking

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Mr. Paul Hankins, a teacher from Indiana, 
is hosting Poetry Friday for the first time. 
Head over there to read lots more great poetry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Saturday morning. I am two hours into a mad dash to Phoenix to pick up Son #2's car. Son #1 has agreed to pick me up at the airport. We stop for a bagel before I hit the road.

I am struck, as we walk in the door, by the whiteness around me. We are in a middle class neighborhood in north Phoenix, and yet I am surprised to notice that my son is the only African American in the bagel shop. I feel a few people glance at us- but I am used to these looks. A short chubby fifty something white woman with a six-foot, African American male is not, I guess, an altogether familiar sight anywhere, let alone in this oh-so-white neighborhood.

We place our orders, two plain bagels toasted with cream cheese and a vitamin water(his), a whole wheat with light cream cheese and a coffee (mine). The sales clerk seems confused that I am paying for both orders. Again, I am used to this.

She types in his name. Or kind of his name. Not Isaiah. Not the proud Biblical name given to him by his birth mother, but rather Isaeh. His name is often misspelled, Isaih or Isiah, but usually not this badly. I am mildly amused.

He is not.

When we get back to the car, he is seething. "Did you see that?" he hisses, heaving the bag of bagels into the back seat. "Did you see that?"

I am momentarily confused. "What, sweetie?"

"Did you see how spelled my name? It's because I'm black. It wouldn't happen if I was white."

I tell him I did notice, but that I didn't take it as a racial thing. I just thought that person was ignorant. Didn't know much about the Bible. Was a bad speller. That it probably would have happened if he was an Asian or Hispanic or Anglo Isaiah. I didn't think it was directed at this color.

He is not appeased.  "That happens all the time! Did you see how people looked at me when we walked in there? I'm sick of it. It happens all the time."

I do not know what to say. 

I have lived with this man child for more than ten years. Can picture him as a first grader, sitting cross-legged on the multi-colored rug, long before he was my son. Remember the day we bought his first shoes, the crooked gap-toothed grin, amazed at the riches of owning not one, but two pair. I have watched him literally take the shirt off his back because his brother wanted to wear it. I know the dimple in his cheek and the sweaty after practice man smell.  I know his love of barbeque potato chips and all things sweet. I know that he is an artist who loves to draw and create with his hands.

And I remember the call in middle school. He was being suspended for fighting because he had defended a child with Downs' Syndrome when someone made fun of him. I remember the first week of high school when he asked if he could have double lunch money. There was a kid in his class that was new to our country. From Ethiopia. He didn't have lunch money. Isaiah was sharing his lunch, but he had football practice after school and he was starving. And the deep joy when he was selected captain of the football team his junior year. "He doesn't say much," said the coach. "He just leads with his actions. Every. single day."

And yet I also know that other people do not perceive him this way. They look at my muscular six-foot-two, generally clad in baggy sweats guy, and they are afraid. They do not know his sweet spirit. His kindness. The goodness of his soul.

I look at my son.

It is not enough to say I am sorry. It is not enough to talk about activism. About Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or a dear friend who is a city councilman in Denver right now. It is not enough to talk about being someone who makes a difference. Change is way too slow. The wrongs are way too big.

And I do not know what to say to this man child, who brings so much light to my world.

And so much fear to the world of others.

I do not know what to say.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Another fantastic offering from the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD, this book follows author Sy Montgomery and photographer extraordinaitreNic Bishop as they visit Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of this organization's work, e.g. one chapter describes the cheetah's unique physical features, another explains how CCF trains cheetahs to reintroduce them into the wild, and still another about how Laurie works with the farmers, even giving them enormous Kangal dogs to protect their herds so they won't need to kill cheetahs. Yet another chapter describes how veterinarians provide physical examinations and health care to the cheetahs, and still another describes how scientists use DNA to trace cheetahs. Finally, there's a chapter about the organization works with school children, educating the next generation of cheetah conservationists. And as with most (all?) books in this series there are lots of related inset articles through the book- Fast Facts (did you know the cheetah can go 70 miles per hour, but can only sustain this speed for 400 to 600 yards), Cheetahs in Numbers (the species has dropped from more than 100,000 in 1900 to the current 10,000), how readers can help, etc. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014


I've been writing haiku with Mary Lee all week. 

"Thin Place"

For ancient Celts, certain geography was seen as sacred because the distance between the human and the divine felt particularly thin. God was near in that place."
From the URBAN SKYE advent devotional

I read poetry
Sky thins, holy tiptoes in
soul eyes see clearly.

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

"morning drive"

grey white cloud blanket
sleeps atop mountains waiting
for sun’s wake up call

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Dawn’s dark lifts mornings
curtain to pink yellow orange
hallelujah sky

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Sun’s sure chariot
pulls new possibilities
over horizon

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

OR "mother to son (with apologies to Langston Hughes)

we heave brick after
brick ‘til wall between us is

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

 “Colorado Winter”
(a double haiku)

Saturday I peel
off sweatshirt stride joyfully
four miles behind dog

Sunday dog drags me
shivering in coat hat gloves
mile of misery

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Anastasia Suen is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


“Monday Morning”

nothing sweeter than
kindergarten arms
wrapped round waist
jostling my coffee 
hugging me hello
Dr. Carol 
I practiced my reading
and my mom and I, 
we practiced the words
and I can read them
well you kind of have to help with like
cuz I get confused
at the end

well nothing sweeter
except maybe
third grade stream of consciousness hello
Miss Carol  I finished Junie B. Jones Mean Warren
and I have new boots
we went to Payless yesterday
and now I’m a big sister
because my baby brother
was born on Saturday
and I helped my mom 
even changing diapers

well nothing sweeter
except maybe
the flip eighth grader
who slows
when she sees me walking out 
a meeting in the first grade classroom
Ms. Wilcox
I moved this weekend
 We’re living at 72nd and Federal
and now I can be on time
I won’t be late to school anymore
she hesitates
then wraps her arms round me
I am surprised at this
show of affection
from this oh-so-cool little gal

Nothing sweeter
than the best job in the world. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


Every once in a while, I read a book where I think, "Where in the world did the author get the idea for this book?" That definitely happened when I read Cheryl Bardoe's latest, BEHOLD THE BEAUTIFUL DUNG BEETLE.

Somewhere in the world, an animal is lightening its load…

Animals take nutrients from the food they eat. Then, after their food is digested,  they push waste out in the form of dung, also called feces or poop. 

Nearby, antennae detect the scent of dung in the breeze. One animal's waste is the dung beetle's treasure…
It turns out,, that there are three different types of dung beetles. Dwellers "dig right in." Rollers "push perfect spheres of dung away from the throng." And tunnelers "hoard their treasures directly below the dung pat."  The book goes on to describe how the beetles eat, compete with each other, reproduce and grow.

End matter includes a section on finding Dung Beetles," fascinating facts, a diagram of the dung beetle's body, and a glossary. And this would be a great book for teaching the Compare/Contrast text structure. 

One of those books where you read with a combination of 'Ewwww!' and amazement.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Pretty much every school-aged child I know can tell you about Ruby Bridges. Far fewer, however, maybe almost none, can tell you about Sylvia Mendez. And yet it was Mendez and her family, in Mendez v. Westminster, who actually paved the way for desegration in 1947, seven years before Brown vs. the Board of Education and over a decade before Ruby Bridges.

In 1944, Sylvia Mendez and her family moved to Westminster, California. That first day, her aunt took Sylvia, her two younger brothers, and two cousins to register them in school. The aunt was told that her own daughters, who looked Anglo, could attend the school, but that Sylvia and her siblings could not. They needed to go to a "Mexican school" in another part of town. The Mexican school was far inferior.
"The building was a clapboard shack and the halls were not spacious or clean. A cow pasture surrounded the school. The students had to eat their lunch outside and flies would land on their food. Their was an electric wire that surrounded the school to keep the cows in. If you touched the wire, you received a shock!"
 Sylvia's father, a businessman, was sure there had been a mistake. The next day he talked to the principal, then the superintendent, then the county superintendent. He consulted other families to find out whether they had received similar treatment. Finally a truck driver overheard him talking to other families, and suggested that the family should file a lawsuit. The suit went through several trials and finally ended up in the  Court of Appeals, where it was decided in favor of Mendez and her family. Mendez attended Westminster schools until her family moved back to Santa Ana a few years later. She graduated from an integrated high school, then studied nursing at California State University. She was a nurse for more than 30 years, until she retired to take care of her mother, who was in ill health.

Duncan Tonatiuh's illustrations appear a little strange and caricature-ish. In a July SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL review, Elizabeth (Betsy) Byrd explains Tonatiuh's style:
"When we talk about Tonatiuh’s art it’s important to understand why he’s chosen the style that he has. In interviews the artist has discussed how his art is heavily influenced by ancient Mexican styles. As he said in an interview on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, “My artwork is very much inspired by Pre-Columbian art, especially by Mixtec codices from the 14th century. That is why my art is very geometric, my characters are always in profile, and their ears look a bit like the number three. My intention is to celebrate that ancient art and keep it alive.” Heads of participants are always shown from the side… There are mild problems with it, since the neutral expression of the faces can resemble dislike or distaste. This comes up when Sylvia’s cousins are accepted into the nearest public school and she is not. Their faces are neutral but read the wrong way you might think they were coolly unimpressed with their darker skinned cousin. Still, once you’ve grown used to the style it’s hardly an impediment to enjoying the story."
 End matter includes a note from the author, photographs of Sylvia, her parents, and the schools she attended, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

This is a really important book-- one that should be in every classroom in the United States. Sylvia Mendez's name should be as well-known as Ruby Bridges!