Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I've discovered yet another missing page in the parenting manual.

My eighteen-year-old graduated.
Not in the traditional way, with "Pomp and Circumstance"
and caps and gowns and pictures and parties. 
Instead, he went to summer school.
Then we met in the principal's office.
And he graduated.
Not pretty.
But he finished.

And now?
Well, he is just kind of on hold.
You see, last October,
he made one of those stupid
teenager mistakes.
That all of us pray our kids won't make.

But he did.

And we have been dealing
with the legal ramifications
for ten looong months.
We go back to court on Thursday.
For the umpteenth time.
And the issue might be resolved.
Except it was supposed to be resolved
in late March
and it's still going on.
So much for a speedy trial.

He could get probation.
He could have to take classes.
In which case he would need to stay here
for the next six months or a year.
He could get deferred probation.
Or credit for time already served.
In which case he could possibly go to college.
Or maybe the military.

In the mean time,
we are stuck in what feels
kind of like the outer circles of Dante's inferno.

He finished school in late June.
I suggested, as I have been for quite a while,
that it might be wise to get a job
so he would have money
to help pay his expenses
and for an occasional movie
or pair of shoes.
He could always quit
after the court stuff is resolved.

He hasn't done that.
He hasn't done much of anything, actually.

And so he hangs out
Waiting for court on Thursday.
Working out with a quarterback coach
tossing a ball
Watching his friends
who are preparing
to head off to college.
Making messes in the kitchen.
Fighting with me
about money
that I am not willing to give him
because I think he should get a job.

He still dreams of playing college football.
He's definitely good enough. 
Might go to a school in Arizona
because the QB coach
knows someone down there.

In case that doesn't work out
he has applied for schools in Denver
He might go to Metro for the first year.
And if that doesn't work out
he might go to a community college
just to get his grades up
and then head out in January.

He talks about being a senator
or a brain surgeon
or a lawyer
or maybe a music producer. 
He has talked about joining the Air Force
or maybe the Navy.
He doesn't really have any idea
what he wants.

And me?
Mostly I just try to stay out of his way
because I am the person
he is convinced is responsible
for all of his woes
and because if I am not around
he can't ask for money.
I am trying
to keep my mouth closed
unless he asks for my opinion
to be tough enough
that he will want to leave the nest
and move toward adulthood
but gentle enough
that he will know he can come back
for visits anyway.

I thumb through the parenting manual.
I can find the chapter about helping your kid pack for college.
I can find the chapter about what to do
when your kid's dreams don't match yours.

But this chapter?

It's missing from my parenting manual.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Bink and Gollie are back with three new adventures!

In the "Empire of Enchantment," Gollie discovers a picture of a great aunt wearing a crown, and decides that she, too, must have royal blood. Bink is unimpressed, and even more so when she discovers that people with royal blood do not cook for others. Gollie is left to discover that being a queen can be pretty lonely business. 

My personal favorite- Bink wants to be taller. (I can so relate!). She orders a STRETCH-O-MATIC machine, which ends up requiring "excessive assembly" and hangs herself from the ceiling to test it out.  Gollie arrives just as Bink and the entire contraption crash to the floor. Can her friend save the day?

And what kid hasn't tried to make it into the Guiness Book of World Records. Bink and Gollie are determined to get themselves into "Flicker's Arcana of the Extraodinary." They come up with a sure fire record, but are disappointed to discover that someone has best them to the punch.

Really fun stories, but lots of depth too, and Tony Fucile's illustrations are the best. Thinking it would be interesting to compare the friendships of Gerald and Piggie, Frog and Toad, and Bink and Gollie. Can't wait to share this one with the beginning chapter book set!

Friday, July 26, 2013


Photograph by Robert, Wikimedia Commons.

Parker J. Palmer, founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a world-renowned writer, speaker and activist. He has reached millions worldwide through his nine books, including Let Your Life Speak, The Courage to Teach, A Hidden Wholeness, and Healing the Heart of Democracy. - See more at:
If you hang out with educators who are interested in spirituality and social activism, you might recognize Parker J. Palmer's name. Palmer is the founder of Center for Courage and Renewal and the author of nine books, including The Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak,  and most recently Healing the Heart of Democracy. Palmer is also an amazing poet and almost every week, he posts a new poem on his Facebook page. This week's poem was called "Harrowing." I'm sharing the last few lines.


…Enough. The job is done.
Whatever's been uprooted let it be
Seedbed for the growing that's to come.
I plowed to unearth last year's reasons--

The farmer plows to plant a greening season.

Parker J. Palmer

Read the rest of the poem here.

Sherri, over at Semicolon, is hosting Poetry Friday. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Eighteen months ago, Rebecca Palacio's WONDER swept kidlitosphere by storm. Everyone was reading it,  and talking about it, and buying it for friends. I just finished TWERP, by Mark Goldblatt, and can't believe that this book won't have a similar effect. TWERP, I think, would provide an amazing platform for talking about bullying. (My friend, Kyle, talks about TWERP through this lens at THE BOY READER).

The main character in TWERP is Julian Twerski, a sixth grader, who has just returned to school after a week's suspension for an incident that involved Julian, his buddies, and a child in the neighborhood. His English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, gives Julian an assignment- he needs to write something about the incident, and it needs to be long. Mr. Selkirk believes writing will help Julian understand the incident- Julian  doesn't think that's true, "If I don't understand something, how can I write about it?" Julian's writing, which eventually fills multiple composition books, becomes the framework for TWERP.

Goldblatt (whose writing reminds me of Gary Schmitt) does an amazing job capturing the life of a sixth grader- friendships and fights with friends, peer pressure, relationships with the opposite sex, and athletic prowess. It's laugh-out-loud funny in lots of places,  and yet, it's also a book I can see middle schoolers finding tremendously comforting, one of those, "Phew, other people really do feel like I do" kind of books.

And then there's the incident- in which Julian and his friends were incredibly cruel to a special needs child in their community. Snippets of information are threaded throughout the book, but Julian waits until the last chapter to reveal what really happened.

I'm meeting with a sixth grade teacher this week. You can be sure I will be recommending TWERP as a first read aloud. It's a book I think every middle schooler needs to read.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

THE FALSE PRINCE- Jennifer A. Nielsen

I am not a fantasy lover. Most of the time, I don't like talking animals, or magical places, or castles and knights. I probably shouldn't admit that I only made it through a couple of books in the HARRY POTTER series. I sat through MAN OF STEEL last week only because it was my son's last night home, and that is what he wanted our family to do.

At the same time, I know that it's a genre that lots of kids love. My sons loved MAN OF STEEL. They are not readers :( but regularly enter magical worlds through video games and movies.  I watch the kids at school select fantasy books again and again and again, in their weekly trips to the library. I think I should read more fantasy, and so every once in a while, usually during the summer or on Christmas vacation,  I try to stretch myself.

Last week, I picked up THE FALSE PRINCE at the library. I had read about the book on several blogs. Given my aversion to fantasy, I was pretty much prepared not to enjoy THE FALSE PRINCE. I was surprised, then, when I loved it. The plot, in brief- the country of Carthya is in danger of toppling. Enemies on all sides are threatening war. The royal family, save for Prince Jaron, believed lost at sea, is rumored to have been killed. Conner, a nobleman, sets out to save the country, by training four orphan boys, with the hopes that one of them will eventually be able to present himself as the long lost Prince Jaron.

The story is told by Sage, the most defiant and devious of the orphans. There are a million twists and turns, questionable characters and lots of suspense. I'm currently working my way through NOTICE AND NOTE, and have been thinking a lot about the possibility of selecting a book for each grade level, and buying each kid a copy at the beginning of the year, just so that they could mark it up, using the NOTICE AND NOTE signposts.  Readers definitely have to pay attention as they read. At the same time, it's not super hard.

I'm trying to decide if I will recommend it to our fifth or sixth grade teachers as a read aloud. In the mean time, I'm off to check out THE RUNAWAY KING, the second book in the series. I can't wait to find out what happens!

A sidenote: Jennifer Neilsen had actually come to my school about 18 months ago. At that point, she was relatively unknown, and had only published ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN and maybe one more ELLIOT book. It was kind of a weird author visit-- the school was in a time of huge transition with new leadership and lots of new teachers (including me) and no one knew she was coming until the morning of the visit. We didn't have any of Nielsen's books in our library, the kids hadn't read anything by her and weren't at all prepared. Even so, author visits are really rare in high poverty schools, and our kids were thrilled at the prospect of getting to hear from a published author.  At that visit, Jennifer talked about THE FALSE PRINCE, but it didn't really connect for me until I started reading more about THE FALSE PRINCE and saw the ELLIOT titles listed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

IF I STAY- Gayle Forman

Have you ever read a book, thinking it was brand new, and then discovered, when you got to the end, that it wasn't? That's what happened to me this week. I had read about IF I STAY by Gayle Forman, on Twitter or Facebook. I requested it from the library. I waited almost a month for it to come. And then it came. I read it (actually devoured it)  in one afternoon.  And then discovered, when I went to look up the author that not only is the book not new, but that there is already a sequel. Which I will be requesting from the library today.

IF I STAY is the story of Mia, a high school cellist. Mia is not one of those kids who especially fits in at the high school, but she has a loving family, a boyfriend in a punk rock band, and a best friend who loves photography as much as Mia loves music. Then a tragedy happens to Mia's family and she has to decide whether or not she wants to continue living.

I read this book thinking I might want to give it to some of my middle school girls. Not sure I would share it with the sixth or seventh graders, but I can definitely see handing it to an eighth grade reader, especially someone who hadn't yet discovered that they liked to read. It's a perfect mixture of high school friendship, love, tragedy, and suspense, one of those books that would hook a reader in the first chapter.

And now I have to go look for the second one, because I also know that kids who read this are going to ask, "Do you have any more books like this one?"

Friday, July 12, 2013


 by Langston Hughes

2 and 2 are 4
4 and 4 are 8

But what would happen
if the last 4 was late?

Read the rest of the poem here.

OK, I'm finally going to admit it. I think I might be a little bit of a literary nerd. I love, love, love when I find literary connections within books, and especially within children's books. And in this week's read, HOLD FAST by Blue Balliet,  I found a doozy.

HOLD FAST is the story of the Pearl family- Dashel and Summer, and their children Early and Jubilee. Dash and Summer were teen parents, and the family is money-poor, so poor that they live in a one-room apartment in Chicago. They are rich in that they cherish each other-- Early truly believes that there is no other Dashsumearlyjubie family in the world. Dash, who grew up in the foster care system,  loves, loves, loves words, and especially loves the poetry of Langston Hughes and instills that same love in his children. Everyone in the family knows that when Jubie is old enough for school, Summer will get a job, and then Dash, currently a page at the Harold Washington Library, will go to college.

But then tragedy strikes. One cold January day, Dash doesn't come home from work. His bike, groceries, and a small pocket notebook are found three blocks from home. And soon, Summer, Early, and Jubilee, find themselves in a homeless shelter. Her mother is totally overwhelmed, and Early finds herself taking care of the family while attempting to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance.

I loved this book. I woke up at 4:39 this morning, considered going back to sleep, but then decided to get up and finish reading, because I wanted to know what happened to Dash. I loved that the students at my school (95% free lunch and many who have lived through periods of homelessness) will be able to see that they are not alone. I loved that Early does not allow the difficulties of her situation or the meanness of other kids, to beat her into the ground.

And most of all, I loved how author Blue Balliet wove Langston Hughes' poetry throughout the text.The Pearl family owns THE FIRST BOOK OF RHYTHMS, one of the few picture books written by Langston Hughes. It's not poetry, but it makes a great found poem:


to the rhythm
to your heart…

the  flow 
of thoughts and emotions
can change 
this rhythm 
for a while. 

Bad thoughts
upset the heart.
Happy thoughts
do not disturb it
unless they are 
sudden surprises. 

the heart pumps
the same number 
of beats 

The rhythm 
of the heart
is the first
and most important 

rhythm of human life.

Dash frequently asked himself , "What's the rhythm, Langston?" and Early finds herself asking that same question as she attempts to solve the mystery of her father's disappears. Langston Hughes' poetry comforts and encourages Early as she lives with the huge hole in her family. I wonder how many of the kids I know might find this same comfort…

You can read other POETRY FRIDAY offerings at Today's Little Ditty.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


7:30 this morning.
I walk into the school to teach a class and
 I am immediately hit with a huge wave of nostalgia.
I helped open this school in summer, 2000.
My first administrative job.

And I remember.
Taking turns sitting on the folding chair in the office.
The only chair in the office actually.
With the gigantic district supply catalogue.
Just order whatever you think we will need.
Whatever we will need?
Yeah, you know, just basic stuff- paper, office supplies, classroom supplies, rolls of paper.
Imagine setting up a new apartment or a house.
Then multiply that by a million.

And I remember how much I loved working with Deb.
Just do what you think is best, Carol. I trust you to make good decisions. 
The almost daily late, late, (think six o'clock) afternoon conferences.  

The job fair in a hot, dirty school the day after school got out,
when she was on crutches with a bum knee and I had laryngitis.
And we hired The Boy Reader and several other terrific young teachers.
The year that I dealt with a thrower upper on one side of the graduation stage
and she did a passer outer on the other end (or maybe it was the other way around). 
And later, when I was about to take the boys, the bags of socks and underwear
 (you mean they won't come with this stuff? They really won't come with anything?)
And how she got her son to take my boys for their first haircut
without making me feel badly that I hadn't noticed that they needed a haircut.
The way she cuddled my boys in her lap when they were naughty.

I stand there in that front hallway and remember.
Miss Jodi, world's best secretary, who made me laugh a hundred times a day.
Claudia and Eileen, our brilliant first grade team,
who were passionate about producing perfection for kids every single day.
I think of all of the young teachers we grew- Kathy, Stefani, Laura, Sharyn, Maria, Lauren-
the coaching, the cajoling, the comforting. 
How I could always count on Kyle to stop by every morning to share books or kid stories.
I remember Pat and Brian, the PE teachers.
The crazy jokes that Pat and Brian would play on each other.
(I swear, Carol, I don't know how Brian's gloves ended up in the center of the showcase in the fifth grade hall. I didn't have anything to do with it). 
I think about Britt and her magical music programs.
Every kid at GVE loved to sing.
And how hard I cried when we had to let her go
because she wasn't "highly qualified" (whatever that means).

I stand in the front hall and remember
the very best years of my teaching life.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I have a confession to make.
I read a lot of kids' books.
And I read quite a few professional books.
But every once in a while, I take a break from all of that reading, and read an adult book. I read it with my book club. This summer's first adult read was THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Piccoult.

Sage Singer is a baker in a small New Hampshire town. Her parents have both passed away, her sisters are distant, and she is pretty much alone in the world, except for her grandmother Minka, a Holocaust survivor. Still mourning her mother's passing, Sage attends a grief group, where she becomes friends with Josef Weber, a beloved ninety-year-old teacher and little league baseball umpire. Mr. Weber soon reveals that he has kept a terrible, terrible secret for many years, and now he wants Sage to forgive him.

This is an amazing read, one of those that I will read again, probably more than once, just because I know I missed so, so, much the first time. I'll reread it as a human being because the story of the horrible things people can do to each other, and the strength of the human spirit and forgiveness is so powerful and so important. I'll read it because there are so many nuggets and life truths. About a third of the way through, I started listing them, but I missed a lot, and I don't want to forget them.

"When was the last time someone read aloud to you? Probably when you were a child, and if you thin back, you;ll remember how safe you felt, tucked under the covers, or curled in someone's arms, as a story was spun around you like a web." 428
"The first time you make a decision like that, a decision which rubs against all your morals, is the hardest. The second time, though, is not so hard. And that makes you feel a fraction better about the first time. And so on. But you can keep dividing and dividing and you'll never entirely get rid of the sourness in your stomach that you taste when you think back to the moment you could have said no."
"I know how powerful a story can be. It can change the course of history. It can save a life. But it can also be a sinkhole, a quicksand in which you become stuck, unable to write yourself free."
"Everyone has a story; everyone hides his past as a means of self-preservation. Some just do it better and more thoroughly than others." 369
 "My grandmother lived a remarkable life. She watched her national fall to pieces; and even when she became collateral damage, she believed in the power of the human spirit. She gave when she had nothing, she fought when she could barely stand; she clung to tomorrow when she couldn't find footing on the rock ledge of yesterday. She was a chameleon, slipping into the personae of a privileged young girl, a frightened teen, a dreamy novelist, a proud prisoner, an army wife, a mother hen. she became whomever she needed to be to survive, but she never let anyone else define her." 416
What he did was wrong. He doesn't deserve your love. But he does deserve your forgiveness, because otherwise he will grow like a weed in your heart until it's choked and overrun. The only person who suffers, when you squirrel away all that hate, is you…I don't know what this person did to you, and I am not sure I want to. But forgiving isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself. It's saying, 'You're not important enough to have a stranglehold on me.' It's saying, 'You don't get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future.'" 451
I'll reread THE STORYTELLER as a reader, because I want to think about my reading process, and how I  pulled together and made meaning all of the different narrators and time periods and genres (part of the story is told by Sage, part by Josef, part by Minka, and then there's also a medieval fairy tale written by Minka), and probably use it in mini-lessons this fall. And I will reread it as a writer, because I can't imagine how Jodi Piccoult could have put all of this together. She is an author I read when I need an escape and she is a great storyteller. This is much, much more intense than most of her books-- several people in my book club said the graphic Holocaust images kept them awake at night, and I could definitely see where it might do that.

If I had to recommend one book I had read this summer, probably even this year, it would be THE STORYTELLER.

Read an interview of Jodi Piccoult talking about the storyteller here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Poetry Friday

I want all of my students (children and adults) to view themselves as lovers of poetry. For that reason, I often share several poems at one time. Sometimes they are related to a particular theme. Sometimes they are related to a specific form or technique. Sometimes they are all by the same poet. Usually one is intended to delight- a lighthearted poem that everyone will love. Others are deeper and  take a little more thinking or processing. We read them all, then I ask students to choose a favorite and work with it a little more. Generally, over the course of the year, kids fall in love with lots of different poems and poets…


  by Charles Simic
Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
- See more at:

USDA Photo by Scott Bauer- Wikimedia Commons

 "Watermelon Bird"

In mid-July, my friends and I
were drinking lemonade
and eating watermelon
in the comfort of the shade.
We spat the seeds among the weeds.
We spat them east and west.
I spat one in a pine tree, where
it landed in a nest.
And there it lay till late in May,
when it sprouted as a vine,
and soon there grew a melon
in the branches of the pine.
A mother bird without a word
then settled in the tree
and nested on that melon
for a week or maybe three.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Eric Ode

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Beyond Silence
Green buddhas
on the fruit stand.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Charles Simic

Watermelon half by Lemur 12 from Wikimedia Commons

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

Read the rest of this poem here
(Truthfully, these are my favorite few lines, and generally, these are are the only ones I ever use).

Wassermelon  by Togo from Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I even share one of my own poems…

Crunchy green rind yields
juicy red flesh then
slippery black seeds
perfect for spitting
More juicy red
followed by paler pink
then bitterish white
and a return to
crunchy green rind.

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2013

Poetry Friday is at Keri Recommends. Head over there for lots  more juicy offerings.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

123 versus ABC- Mike Boldt

I love alphabet books. And counting books. And books that combine the two. It makes sense, then, that I would love Mike Boldt's 123 versus ABC. On the first page of this dueling themes book, a large blue Number One shows up, all set to be the star of a counting book. Unfortunately, Letter A also shows up, all set to be the star of an alphabet book. The two themes duel throughout the book, all the way to the surprise ending.

I can't wait to add this to my alphabet and/or counting book collections. It's basic enough for young readers, but silly enough that intermediate grade readers are also going to love it. I can see kids perusing Mike Boldt's lively illustrations  (are there really 8 hot dogs and 9 ice cream cones?). And the ending couldn't be more perfect.

Read an interview with author/illustrator Mike Boldt here.

Thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Slice of Life

I was awake at three this morning.
Why, you ask?
Well, because today is the day that my first born is coming home.
He went back to school in early January and I haven't seen him since.
But tonight, at 9:16, his plane touches down
and he'll be here
for 12 whole days.
And I cannot wait to give my great big guy
a great big hug.

In the meantime, I've kept busy worrying all day.
  • What if he forgets and leaves the air conditioner on?
  • What is he does turn the air conditioner off, but doesn't take the trash out, so that the whole apartment stinks when he goes back?
  • What if the airport shuttle doesn't come?
  • What if the shuttle does come, but he doesn't answer his phone, and misses it?
  • What if he gets on the shuttle, but doesn't get off at the right terminal (do they have different terminals in Phoenix?)
  • What if he gets off at the right terminal, but has problems with the ticket, because it was bought with my credit card, not his?  
  • What if they have his ticket, but he forgets something critical, like his I.D., and can't get on the plane?
  • What if he gets his ticket, but then accidentally leaves something important, like his computer, at airport security (if you have read my blog for awhile, you know this is not totally unfounded!)?
  • What if he can't find his gate?
  • What if he finds his gate, but the flight is cancelled?
  • What if he finds his gate, and the flight isn't cancelled,but then he falls asleep, or puts his headphones on, and somehow misses the plane?
  • What if we can't find each other at the Denver airport?
And on and on and on, all day long.
I have called him, a few too many times, I think,
judging by his tone of voice.
But, you know what?
4:15 came. And he texted me that he was on the shuttle bus.
And then a little after 5, he made it through ticketing.
Before 5:30, he was at the gate (with his computer in case you are wondering).
And then a few minutes ago, he called and said they were starting to board.
In a couple of hours he will be here.
I think I'm going to take my book and leave for the airport.
Because it's been six months.

And I can't wait one minute longer.