Monday, February 20, 2017


Not sure exactly what to say about this book.

I loved it.

I borrowed it from the library and now I need to go buy my own copy, or maybe 5 copies, so I can pass it to every kid I know.

Middle schooler Castle Crenshaw, a.k.a. Ghost, has spent his entire life running. His earliest memory goes back to the night he and his mother ran down the street as his father chased them, waving a shot gun. He's spent pretty much the rest of his life trying to forget that incident. But the trauma has shaped him. Hugely.

Castle happens upon the Defenders, an elite middle school track team. An informal encounter with one of their best sprinters leads to an invitation from the coach and Castle finds himself on the team. He doesn't have track shoes, though, and makes the unfortunate decision to steal them from a local sporting goods store.

Ghost is real and it's gritty. But it's not all dark. The main characters are middle schoolers. Middle schoolers are funny. A lot of the time. And Reynolds' characters definitely fit into that mold. Castle reads Guiness record type books and random facts are scattered throughout the book. I know kids are going to love those too.

Jason Reynolds gets urban kids. Gets my boys. Gets the kids I teach.

I wish I had had this book to hand to my own, African American, fatherless, track-running sons about ten years ago. Castle is my boys. Coach is the men who worked with them, practice after practice after practice. Decision after decision after decision. Year after year after year.

Get this book. Now.

Oh, and did I mention it's the first in a series and the next one comes out next fall.

The book won the CYBILS intermediate grade fiction category last week.

Here's a link to the New York Times review (written by another favorite author, Kate Messner).

Here's a link to a National Book Foundation interview.

Friday, February 17, 2017


As a former primary grade teacher, I want my students exposed to poetry at a very young age. I'm always on the lookout then, for poetic picture books. For my youngest readers, I want books that will make their way into their mouths, and into their hearts, and that children will ask for again and again and again.  I found one this week in Sharon Gibson Palermo's WINTER, WINTER, COLD AND SNOW. It's a really simple book, with a rhythm that reminds me of Bill Martin's classic BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR. Listen for a minute:

Winter, winter, cold and snow;
Chickadee, Chickadee Who do you know?

I know Bear, asleep in her den;
she might wake up when the sun shines in

The little guys always love animals, and this book has some old favorites like bears and owls, but also some that are more unusual- beavers and woodchucks, for example. I see lots of potential science discussions and wonderings about where animals go and how they take care of themselves in winter. The paper collage illustrations are colorful and interesting, yet not too busy for young children.

Pretty sure that WINTER, WINTER COLD AND SNOW is one that my little younger kids are going to love! I'm looking forward to sharing it on our next snowy day.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The questions started at 8:30 this morning, with my first kindergarten reading group.

"Dr. Carol," she says anxiously, "do you think we are missing the party?"

"No, sweetie, the party is at 2:00. That's after math, and after recess and after lunch and after specials. You're not missing the party."

We read for a few more minutes, then with a five year old's sense of time, she asks again.

"Are you sure?" she says anxiously. "Maybe they are doing cards. I didn't get a chance to do my cards yet."

"Sweetie, there will be lots of time for cards. Cards are this afternoon. We are only going to read for a few minutes, then you can go back in and do your cards."

We return to our book. We read a few more pages.

"They might be having candy. I brought candy," she says anxiously. "I need to go back inside."

I assure her, once again, that they are not having candy or anything else, for quite a while. She asks, more than once, if I am sure. Finally, at 8:50, I give up, and the group of three returns to the class.

After all, no one wants to miss cards. Or candy.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Twice a year, I participate in the #pbtenforten, where people share their favorite ten picture books. During the summer, it's fiction picture books. Every February, it's nonfiction. 
This year, I'm sharing a group of picture books that blend poetry and nonfiction. 

Freedom Over Me
This 2016 Newbery Honor Book was one of my favorite CYBILS nominees.
Poems told from the point of view of slaves about to be sold.
Definitely for older readers. 

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
by Roxanne Orgill, illustrations by Francis Vallejo

Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
by Jose Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano

Fresh  Delicious: Poems from the Farmer's Market
Poems by Irene Latham, Illustrations by Mique Moriuchi

Now You See Them, Now You Don't
by David L. Harrison, illustrations by Giles Laroche

The Alligator's Smile and Other Poems
by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Jason Stemple

When the Sun Shines On Antarctica
and Other Poems About the Frozen Continent
by Irene Latham, illustrated by Anna Wadham
also Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep
April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Winter, Winter, Cold and Snow
by Sharon Gibson Palermo, illustrated by Christina Song

Write Me a Poem series
Valerie Bodden
This four book series delves into different tools the poet uses. 
A nice addition to any elementary library. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


I met him when he came to our school last year.

He was a fourth grader transferring from a neighboring school. Happy. Busy. Personable. One of those kids who was capable of absolutely terrific work, which he sometimes did, and sometimes didn't do, depending on whatever particular projects he had pending.

And he always had projects pending. A superhero to draw. A question to research. An origami project to create. Those independent projects truly were his top priority.

I saw a similar kid when he started fifth grade. He always did terrific thinking. Devoured books voraciously. Sometimes wrote well. If he didn't have something more interesting going on.

But there were always projects. Most recently, it was fancy paper airplanes. He and all his buddies dug through the recycle bins for paper. Or begged it off of unsuspecting teachers (not to mention any names). He folded plane after plane after plane. Taught all of the other fifth graders to fold them. For a couple of weeks before winter break, plane flying replaced soccer during lunch recess.

And then after Christmas a different kid came back to school.

Quiet. Distant. Blatantly refusing to follow directions. Accomplishing nothing.

I tried to talk to him. No response.  I called his mom. He told me that got him in trouble, which wasn't my intent at all. I just wanted his mom to know I was worried about him. I missed his projects.

Finally he talked to his teacher. His dog died over Christmas break. Things are never going to get better. He is always going to be like this.

His teacher talked to him. Talked to his parents. They were surprised. Thought he was ok.  He wasn't.

Our principal, a total dog lover, talked to him. Still not ok.

Yesterday, he made it down to the principal's office again. She was in the assistant principal's office with another student, and I talked to him again. Told him about losing my mom's dog, Boo, in October and how sad that made me feel. Reminded him of Jack in LOVE THAT DOG,  a book he had read in fourth grade. Offered him a journal I had in my desk. Asked if he wanted to talk to our school psychologist.


Not a glimmer of that smart, question asking, project planning kid I know.

I really miss that kid.

I hope he finds his way back to us soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


I didn't go to the Women's March in Denver on Saturday.

I really wanted to be there, however, several months ago, I agreed to do a presentation at tutor training for a local non-profit. It was at the same time as the march and I just didn't feel like I could back out.

So I went.

And encountered what I hope the world will not be like for the next four years.

My presentation was about ways tutors could support their English learners. One of the first things I talked about was the importance of building relationships, and helping their tutoring partners to feel safe and relaxed.

A woman raised her hand and asked, "But what if my child (her tutoring partner) doesn't feel safe. He cries every week because he is afraid he is going to be deported."

At that point, a man sitting right in front of me growled, in a really audible tone, "Let's not get political."

I tried to respond to the woman's question as best as I could. I told her that I would tell the little boy the same thing I had told the kindergartners at the lockdown drill the day before. We had been sitting under the table against the wall in the art room and one of the little girls was frightened and started to cry. I told her that she didn't need to worry, (first of all because it was just a practice), and secondly, because it was my job, as an adult, to take care of her and keep her safe as best as I could. That moms and dads and grandparents and teachers always do their best to keep kids safe.

And then I went on with my presentation. Over the next 45 minutes, I shared about 15 more strategies. People clapped when I was done, and I thought it had gone ok.

Later I learned that the "not get political" gentleman had gone first to the person in charge of my session, and then to the president of the whole organization, to complain about how political my session was.

And even though I know it was only one person and probably not that big a deal, I can't stop thinking about it.

I can't stop wondering what the next four years are going to look like.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


My friend, David, moved away two weeks ago, and I have really been missing him.

I met David shortly after I moved into my house seven years ago. He pedaled by on his bike and introduced himself. He told me he did yard work, and that he would be glad to help me out if I ever needed anything.

And over the past seven years, David has helped me out. A lot. He laid sod in my front parkway. He moved my lawn. He pruned my bushes. He shoveled snow. He cleaned my gutter. A couple of years ago, a late spring storm knocked down a huge branch that went all the way across my backyard. I wondered how I would ever get it out of there, and how much it would cost. David and his buddies sawed it into chunks and got rid of it within a matter of hours.

Sometimes I called and asked him to do work. Sometimes he just showed up and I would come home from work to a yard that had been mowed, or trees that been cut back. Mostly I paid him, but if I didn't have money, he just worked for free.

"I got you baby," he would say. "I got you."

David is my age, in his late fifties. As far as I can tell, he has spent pretty much his entire life in this neighborhood. As long as I have known him, he has never had a regular job. He didn't own a car, instead he rode his bike all over Park Hill. David knew everyone in the neighborhood. He knew who was having babies and who had died. He was invited to neighborhood barbecues and graduation parties. Whenever someone moved in, David was the always the first person to introduce himself. He was friends with everyone.

David  hung out with a group of men, all about his age, that all had similar life circumstances. They all drank. A lot. I rarely saw David before ten or eleven in the morning. I knew that he wouldn't be available after about four, because that is when he and his buddies started drinking. In between ten and four, he did great work.

Despite his alcohol issues, he was my friend, and I always knew he had my back.

David lived about a block down the street from me, in a ramshackle house that he shared with his mother, and any number of other people. Several of the people that lived there were mechanics and worked on cars out in front of the house. My boys didn't like the people at that house. One of my sons insisted that the people who lived in that house had stolen the speakers out of his car. They might have, but I knew David didn't have anything to do with it, because David was my friend. He had my back.

Earlier this fall, David told me that his 85-year-old mother was selling her house. I wasn't sure I believed him. Where would she go? Where would he go? Where would all of the other people that seemed to live in the house go? David told me would move to an apartment on Colorado and 17th. It's not very far, and I just assumed I would still see him out and around on his bike.

About three weeks ago, the house really was sold. There wasn't a sign, it just seemed like somehow, during the night, all of the people that lived there, including David, disappeared. The next day, men were there tearing out the ramshackle fence and overgrown bushes. They've hauled away three dumpsters full of junk, and workmen are there every day renovating the house.

I haven't seen David. He called me one day about two weeks ago. First he asked if I had seen what they were doing to his house. Then he asked if he could move in with me. We both kind of laughed, but I wonder if he was really kidding. I wonder if he really does have an apartment. There's an abandoned motel at Colorado and 17th, and I wonder if he might be living there. We've had a couple of really cold spells and I'm wondering if he is somewhere warm and if he has food to eat.

I miss my friend David.

It's hard to find people who have your back.