Saturday, November 3, 2018

MISSING MIKE by Shari Green

Nine-year-old Kara goes to the pound to adopt a dog. She doesn't choose one of the five cute golden doodle puppies bouncing around a cage in the corner. Instead, she chooses a scruffy, red brown, one-eyed, tattered ear, maybe part Golden Retriever, cowering in the back of his kennel. She names him Mike Wazowski, after the one-eyed monster in a kids' movie. 

Now, two years later, Kara's family is forced to evacuate their home because of a forest fire. When it comes time to leave, Mike is nowhere to be found and Kara has to leave her beloved, four-legged best friend behind. 

Kara and her family finds refuge with the Bains, who have opened their home in the emergency. While her parents worry about the status of her home, and her older sister, Sloane, pursues a relationship with a teen dad, Kara searches for solace in crossword puzzles, and a new friendship with Jewel, a foster child in the Bains' home. And all the while, she searches websites and shelters, hoping that her precious Mike has somehow survived.

So much to love about this book.
A novel in verse about those hard, hard, coming of age years.
A main character who is a lover of words.
A dog.
I can't wait to recommend this to readers who love dogs, or words, or Ann Martin's REIGN RAIN.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


I live in the heart of Denver. Although I live at least 30 minutes from any area I would describe as "wooded or rural," I regularly glimpse raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and of course, squirrels, and all kinds of bugs and birds, when I am out working in the yard or walking my dog.

In HIDDEN CITY: POEMS OF URBAN WILDLIFE debut poet, Sarah Grace Tuttle celebrates the wildlife of the city. In her poems, readers find all kinds of animals- including mice, skunks, sparrows, and several kinds of insects, as well as plants like mushrooms, moss, and wildflowers.

Tuttle has a dual degree in English and environmental studies, and as someone who loves a few facts with her poetry, I love the information she embedded in each poem, as well as the followup endnotes, "Fun Facts About the Wildlife in These Poems." 

Readers of HIDDEN CITY learn to watch carefully for the natural wonders in their own world. I could see reading the poems and then heading out with writers' notebooks to capture the wonders that we might find. Kids could definitely use the poems as mentors for their own wildlife/nature poems.

Artist Amy Schimler-Safford is an illustrator that is new to me, but her collage artwork is perfect for the poems in HIDDEN CITY.

"Community Garden"
An empty lot has
grown over with
wild tangles of grass and aster,
bright dandelions,
wood sorrel, clover.
bees and butterflies feast on nectar
ants build
snails crawl
and garden snakes sun themselves
by the graffitied wall.

"Under Cover"
On the side of a house
tuck under shingles
in clumps and rows,
crawl into cracks
in clusters and droves
their heartbeats,
and snuggle in tight
for their long winter sleep.

"The Hunting Lesson"
A mother raccoon
teaches her kits:
place paws firmly and
push again
push again
a feast spills out of the bin.
Bagels and fish heads and broccoli
all for the taking.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with students in my urban setting.

Friday, October 19, 2018


People who have followed my blog know my story. I'm a single, never-married white woman. My sons are African American. They were students at my school and I adopted them when they were seven and nine.  Our journey has been long and bumpy. Many, many people including a former boss, teachers, and football and basketball coaches, have been the village that have surrounded and raised my boys.

A single white mom, with two black boys, is probably not ideal. I know I did a lot of things wrong. But one thing I did right is to fill my sons' lives with books. And I made sure that we had books with people that celebrated my boys.

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACK BOY, by Tony Medina and 13 Artists, is a book that I wish I had been able to give my boys when they were growing up. The title, as those who are more literary will probably recognize, is a play on Wallace Stevens' 1954 poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." The thirteen poems, all in the tanka form, are a celebration of black malehood, arranged chronologically. The first poem, "Anacostia Angel," captures a black baby with a fly bow tie and koolaid smile.  In the last poem, "Giving Back to the Community," a black man returns to teach in his community. In between those two are poems that celebrate church, thie middle school/high school flirt, a teenage athlete chasing his bus, and several others.  Many of the poems are set in Anacostia, "a historically black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., which is quickly becoming more gentrified." Anacostia was also the home of Frederick Douglas.

The art in this book is absolutely spectacular. Thirteen different artists, including well-known picture book artists Floyd Cooper, Javaka Steptoe, and R. Gregory Christie each contributed one illustration, everything from watercolor, to pencil-like sketch to watercolor, to mixed media. Wow! I think this book would be a terrific addition to an art class- kids could pick one object and explore it in through several different mediums.

Extensive back matter gives information about each artist, about tanka, and about the Anacostia area.

"One-Way Ticket"
Payday don't pay much
   Every breath I take is taxed
The kind of life where
   I'll have to take out a loan
To pay back them other loans

"Athlete's Broke Bus Blues"
Know how many times
   I done missed this broke-down bus
Hardly catch my breath
   Running as fast as can be,
Wave at this bus leaving me

"Brothers Gonna Work It Out"
We righteous Black men
   Patrol the soul of this 'hood
Raise young bloods proper
   To be the kings that they are
Crowned glory of our future

Brenda, at Friendly Fairy Tales, is hosting Poetry Friday today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

MOONRISE by Sarah Crossan

Joe Moon is seventeen years old.
He hasn't seen his brother, Ed,
since he was seven,
when Ed stole his aunt's car
and hotfooted it to Texas.

Joe remembers
taking a phone call from Ed.
There was an incident
a policeman was shot and killed
And Ed
despite proclaiming his innocence
ended up on death row.

Now, ten years later, Ed's execution is imminent,
and Joe travels to Texas
to see his brother,
and possibly to say goodbye.

A powerful (and horribly sad) story
of family
and love
and justice (or injustice).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

WITH MY HANDS by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Can't believe it's been a month since I have blogged! I have had rough spells, but I am pretty sure this is a record for me. Can I blame the beginning of the school year and 67 sixth graders??? Anyway, I'm back at it now. I'm a CYBILS poetry judge, so from now until the end of December, you can expect a whole lot of poetry books and novels in verse.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's WITH MY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT MAKING THINGS is up first. The book, which debuted in March, begins with the poem, "Maker."

I am a maker.

I am making
something new
with my hands
my head
my heart.

That's what makers do.

A maker starts with
empty space
and stuff.

A maker
through mistakes.
A maker
must be tough.

A maker is a tinkerer.
A maker
will explore.

A maker
creates something new
was before.

WITH MY HANDS goes on to celebrate the joy of creating. There are poems for artists, for builders, for bakers, for sewers, actually twenty different poems about things to do or make - painting, clay, birdhouses, snowflakes, piñatas, parachutes, boats, cards, knot, soap carving, tie-dye, collage, spaceship, sock puppet, cookies, leaf pictures, a fort, origami,  knitting, a shadow show. 

I had a hard time choosing poems to highlight. A couple that I loved:

"Tie-Dye Shirt"
I made a tie dye.
Didn't buy it.
Tied it
Dipped it.
Dyed it.
Untied it.
Shook it.
Dried it.
Wore it.

Try it!

I cut a parachute from plastic
tied my guy on with elastic
threw him from a window (drastic)
watched him drift to earth-- fantastic!

You're not even looking
but you know
we have been cooking
for we're filling
up the kitchen
with a smell
of something good.
We are stirring
hands aflutter
mixer whirring
eggs and butter.
We resemble
clouds of flour
(as two
busy bakers should).
And these goodies
we are making
were a batter.
Now they're baking
into cookies.
Will you help us
eat them up?

We knew you would.

Should I admit this book made me a little nostalgic? When I was a little girl, I was constantly making something-- water color paintings, bean pictures, clothes for my dolls, a carnival.  My boys were always digging, building, cutting, drawing, baking.

I don't see kids doing as much of that anymore and it makes me sad. I envision this book opening up whole new worlds-- I hope it would cause kids to say, "Could I really make/do that?" I envision myself putting this book at a center in an elementary grade classroom, along with all kinds of "making" materials. I also think it would be a terrific Christmas gift- along with a box of things to use for making- yarn, googly eyes, markers, construction paper, beads, etc.

Thanks, Amy, for another terrific offering to the world of children's poetry!

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.