Friday, February 28, 2014


I love books. I love dogs. I love poetry. I love Mary Oliver's poetry.
And when I find DOG SONGS by Mary Oliver at the library,
 I think I have died and gone to heaven.

I've read the book at least three times in the last week.  Such big truths in so few words.

Some lines have already written themselves on my heart.

she adored
        every blossom,

 not in the serious 
     careful way
          that we choose
                this blossom or that blossom.

the way we praise or don't praise
     the way we love 
          or don't love---
               but the way

we long to be---
     that happy
          in the heaven of earth--
                 that wild, that loving. 
(C) Mary Oliver, DOG SONGS, 2013

…Benny, I say,
don't worry. I also know the way
the old life haunts the new.
(C) Mary Oliver, DOG SONGS, 2013

Who am I to summon his hard and happy body
his four white feet that love to wheel and pedal
through the dark leaves
to come back to walk by my side, obedient.
(C) Mary Oliver, DOG SONGS, 2013


…Well, see? Just keep on liking things.
And praying.

"I don't know anything about that."

Yes you do. Every time you wake up and 
love your life and the world, you're
praying, my dear boy. I'm sure of it.
Mary Oliver, DOG SONGS,  2013

And there are some poems that I will need to reread and swish around a few (or maybe a hundred) more times before I understand…
"Listen, a junkyard puppy
Learns quickly how to dream
Listen, whatever you see and love--
That's where you are.' 
Read more terrific lines people have pulled from Dog Songs here.

Read the NY TIMES book review here.

Visit the POETRY FRIDAY ROUNDUP at Anastasia's POET! POET! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


 We have a new family member at our house. Boo, my mom's six-year-old malti-poo, has come to live with Star and I, probably permanently. The first dog I ever had was a miniature poodle named Cocoa. Since then, I've pretty much always had big dogs- usually labs and golden retrievers. This eight-pounder is a whole new experience. 

Boo is not an ordinary people-loving dog. She spent the first years of her life as a puppy mill mama, having six litters of puppies before she was finally rescued at age 5. Those years in the puppy mill have definitely left their mark. Unlike Star, who never leaves me alone, Boo never initiates contact. She doesn't greet me at the door when I come home. She doesn't come when I call her. She rarely acknowledges my presence.  Boo is shy, shy, shy, shy, shy.

Boo lives in a perpetual state of worry and anything, however slight, can set her off. If I pick her up too quickly, she starts to shake. If Star approaches too exuberantly, she starts to shake. If I drop something or make an unexpected noise, Boo starts to shake. She shakes a lot.

Boo's happy place is her bed. Right in front of the dishwasher. She would rather be there than anywhere else. She is sitting in her bed when I leave for work in the morning. And she is still sitting there when I come home at night.  If I put her down anywhere else, she scurries back to her bed,  like she's been drawn into a mysterious bed force field. And any time we move from the main floor to the basement (at least ten times a day, given that my bedroom and the family room are both in the basement), we have to take her bed. Otherwise, she starts to shake.

Boo is a bit of a princess. She likes her meals catered.  In a private dining room. And so twice a day, I put the baby gate up to fence my food-crazed lab out of the kitchen, then dump Boo's quarter cup of food into a little dish. I put the dish next to her in her bed and wait a few minutes to see if she will eat. She usually doesn't, at least not until I take a few bits of Kibble and place it outside of the bowl. Then she gobbles it up and looks up at me, as if to say, "Ready, mom." That's my cue to give her another bite.  And so we repeat. Again and again and again until the food is gone.

Boo doesn't do stairs, which is a teeny bit of a problem, given that there are four steps between the main floor and the back door, and another two off the deck into the yard. This means that every time she has to go out, she needs a little help. It also means that every time I go downstairs, I have to plan my trips. One trip to carry Boo (and her bed). One trip to carry anything else I need. And she doesn't like it if I take her first, then go back for the bed. That makes her shake.

Boo's pretty high maintenance. She worries and shakes. She  has to be fed and lugged around. Even so, she's part of the family. Welcome home, Boo!

This isn't Boo, it just looks a lot like her.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.

Today I'm celebrating my mom.
She's turning 80 on Monday.

My dad died twenty years ago
so after 35 years of marriage
my mom had to create
a new life for herself.

She's done an amazing job.
Does a ton of volunteer work,
Serves on a million different boards,
Plays bridge two or three times a week.
Drives all of her seventy-year-old friends 
to charity luncheons,
the symphony and the theater,
chemo and doctor appointments.

I thought we would be celebrating tonight,
with her family and friends
at a restaurant she wanted to try.

Instead we are celebrating from a hospital room.

On Monday, I got a call that my mom had collapsed.
My sister had gone to accompany her 
to a routine doctor's appointment
and found her on the floor.

The preliminary diagnosis was a minor stroke.
That proved negative.
She had fallen recently
and there was a possibility of a hematoma.
And then a brain tumor.
Nothing showed on the CAT scan or MRI.

Finally, they diagnosed 
something called
normal pressure hydrocephalus
It's an age-related condition 
where the veins in the head
hold too much fluid
it leads to imbalance and incontinennce
and eventually dementia.
But they caught it early
She had a two hour surgery yesterday
to install a shunt
to redirect the extra fluid
into her abdominal cavity
and she'll be fine
in a few days.

Today I'm celebrating my mom
her strength
her bravery
her generosity
her sense of humor

but most of all
that my mom 
is here for us to celebrate.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Today I am honored to share the poetry of Alejandro Jiminez. Alejandro is the life partner of Anyel, a sixth grade teacher and dear friend from my school. I've joked with Alejandro as he's schlepped boxes around our building, and he's cooked dinner as we've graded papers  at their kitchen table. I knew Alejandro wrote and performed poetry, but I had no idea he was so famous, until last week, when he sent me one of his poems and invited me to check out his website.

On his site, I learned:
Alejandro is spoken word poet, educator, avid distance runner and soccer fanatic from Colima, Mexico.  Arriving in the United States as an undocumented immigrant in 1995, and working as a farm worker for over 10 years in Oregon, he now resides in Denver, CO. Upon becoming the first member in his family to graduate from college, he moved to the 'mile high city' to organize for immigrant rights. Now, he works with youth as a mentor/tutor; and is a happy high school librarian.
In January 2012, Alejandro had the honor and privilege to write and read a poem for the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient, Dolores Huerta (long time organizer and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez). That year, he was also a member of the award-winning Slam NUBA! poetry slam team that placed 5th in the National Poetry Slam Competition.
In 2011 he became the first Latino to win the Su Barrio Slam Poetry Competition, joining the ranks of nationally recognized slam poets. That same year, he placed 2nd out of 300+ participants in the first La Raza's Got Talent Competition.
Alejandro  has allowed me to share his poem, "Why Mexicans should not use the n-word" in its entirety. It's edgy and tough and so, so perfect for the kids I teach and for my sons and well, really all of us…

"Why Mexicans should not use the n-word"

because george zimmerman is latino
because emiliano zapata was part black
because lupita nyong’o was born in mexico

because run away indian and black slaves
formed quilombos
that fought off slave hunters for decades

because they fill their prisons
with black and brown bodies
just like they did their shps
criminal justice system
is the new middle passage,
new jim crow
el nuevo juan cuervo
police brutality the new genocide

because vicente guerrero
the first black president in north america
threaten war against the united states
if they tried capturing runaway slaves in mexico

because la bamba was an african song
sung by slaves on the fields of Veracruz

i like hiphop too
and I understand your favorite rapper
drops that word every other line
but tell me this
how many times have you smiled when someone's called you a beaner?
does it make you want to wave your hands in the air
like you just don't care
when someone calls you a spic?

come on!
we are so fly
they call us
illegal aliens
we are so sexy
they call us dirty Mexicans

you should not blame music
for your ignorance

when you say this word
does it feel as if you have a cotton gin fan
tied around your tongue

does it feel like you are
strange fruit,
a broken branch,
surrounded by klansman
and children cheering
because there is one less of you

hermano y hermana
they used to hang us too
for talking the wrong way
for speaking loudly
for rejecting white men
for questioning orders
for acting too brown

and i understand that you grew up in the barrio

that it is hard to see a link
between a black struggle and ours
and for this they have given you:
number 13,
blue and red,
black and yellow
same tactics used 500 years ago
they teach us now
so we can kill each other off

and i know it is hard to see a link
between a black struggle and ours
and for this they have given you:
shitty schools
that are waiting to spit you out

they invest more in your failure
than in your success

but you are much more than this

more than any noose
more than any tree they can find

your mouth does not need to speak
as if it had a burning cross for a tongue

i know you have an inferno in your throat

i have seen this
when you raise your hand to question:
mister, why does the police keep stopping my uncle?
mister, why does the police keep ripping my family away?

I have seen this
when you speak
when you cry
when you dance

i know that you have
arrows for teeth,
fists for lips,
ready to defend anyone
that dares to insult
your loved ones

we are so busy creating walls
that we forget about quilombos
that we forget about building bridges

but you,
have so much power in your voice
so much rage in the ocean that sleeps in your mouth

let the moon pull the waves
to wash away the master's language
to turn this water
into a typhoon
into a hurricane
that their guns
their bullets
their handcuffs
will not be able to stop

then they will know
the teachings
that they have tried so hard
to "educate" out of us

and that our ancestors have always known

that black and brown
have always been
and will always be

(c) Alejandro Jiminez, 2014

To read more of Alejandro's poetry, or to see him perform poetry, visit his website,

And check out Poetry Friday at Karen Edmisten's blog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

NF 10 for 10- My Top Ten Nonfiction Books of 2013!

 Today is one of my favorite days of the year- NF 10 for 10. A couple of years ago, Cathy Mere, Mandy Robek, and Julie Balen, decided that we needed a little midwinter excitement, so they thunked up the first annual Nonfiction Ten for Ten Picture book event. It's become an annual favorite!

Since I just finished judging the 2013 CYBILS NONFICTION BOOKS, this year my list is my favorite ten 2013 nonfiction books (ok, with a teeny bit of cheating). I've already reviewed most of these, so the links to my reviews are included with the title.

Head over to Julie Balen's site for a compilation of all of the nonfiction lists!

1. FROG SONG by Brenda Z. Guiberson
My own personal CYBILS winner. 

Clever, clever book design!

3. Eye on the Wild: Orangutan by Suzi Eszterhas
Really any book in this new series. Perfect for introducing younger kids to nonfiction. Perfect mentor text for older kids. 

Winner of this year's CYBILS award. An amazing amount of information packed onto each page. And guaranteed to make you want to get out your sketchbook.

Love this picture book biography. Hope this author/illustrator team have lots more coming.

6. COURAGE HAS NO COLOR by Tanya Lee Stone
The story of the America's first black paratroopers. Too important to miss.


Or for the younger set, David Macaulay's TOILET: HOW IT WORKS

8. NELSON MANDELA by Kadir Nelson
(Ok, really any book by Kadir Nelson is a favorite of mine, but this is this year's favorite).

9. Two amazing collage-illustrated nonfiction picture books

PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumboare
Gorgeous collage illustrations

VOLCANO RISING by Elizabeth Rausch
An unusual look at volcanoes. More beautiful collage illustrations.

10. Two really good books about big animals

Or any other book in the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The call comes around 4:00. My sister. An hour and a half away.

"I don't want to scare you, but I'm on my way to meet mom and Nancy (my other sister) at the hospital."

"The hospital? Why? What's wrong?"

"I don't know yet. Nancy went to get mom for her doctor's appointment and something was wrong. I think she said Mom was on the floor."

"What??? Should I come?"

"Just wait, wait until we know something. I'll call you as soon as I get to the hospital."

I had just been down and spent the afternoon with my mom on Saturday. My mom, who will turn 80 next Monday, is a pretty lively gal. She still drives, does volunteer work, plays bridge several times a week, eats out almost every night. She was excited to give me a pair of shoes she had found on sale. Wanted to go to Target. Told me about her plans for the symphony on Sunday. Talked about what she was reading. We met Nancy and her partner, Traci, for dinner.

That day, my mom was a little more preoccupied than usual with her age. Worried about who would take her dog if something happened to her. Told me about who should get what piece of her crystal. Wondering if she should sell her patio home and move to assisted living. I thought all of these conversations probably had to do with her impending birthday. Somehow 80 sounds much older than 79.

My mom had complained a little about a pain in her head. She had a doctor's appointment on Monday and was planning to tell the doctor. It didn't sound like anything serious. And she seemed okay.

But now my sister is telling me she is en route to the hospital.

I debate jumping into the car, but I know, in rush hour in Denver, it will take several hours to get there. And I am unsure, at this point, how serious the situation actually is. Whether they will even still be at the hospital by the time I can get there.

My sister calls. And calls again. And again. And again.

It seems my mom was getting ready for her doctor's appointment. Nancy, who is a nurse, was going to go with her. Somehow, my mom collapsed on the floor in her family room and could not get up. Luckily my sister arrived a few minutes later. My mom's left leg was weak. She was off balance. Could not walk without assistance. They went to the doctor's office, but he sent them directly to the ER.

There were blood tests. A CAT scan. Nothing showed up, but the doctor was concerned about her lack of balance and the pain in her head. He decided to admit her and do an MRI today.

And now I'm sitting in Denver, wondering what I should do.  The district is making some pretty significant changes in primary grade literacy and today is the rollout. I am supposed to attend a workshop with our K-2 team today. I want to be at the workshop, with the teachers I am supposed to coach.

But I also want to be with my mom.

Both my sisters have taken the day off. They will spend the day at the hospital today, then I will go down tonight and spend the day tomorrow.

But I wonder what will happen the day after that. And the day after that. And the next one.

Will my mom be able to take care of herself? Will she be able to play bridge and do volunteer work? Take herself to the symphony and the store and out to lunch? Will she need a walker? A companion? Assisted living?

I knew this day would come someday.

But I did not expect it to be today. 

And somehow, I am not prepared.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.

I'm celebrating lots of things this week-- the CYBILS awards (announced yesterday),  a three-day weekend, warm weather (almost sixty degrees today and tomorrow), a Saturday off after working four out of the last five, time to clean house and pay some bills and get my hair cut and get the car washed-- but here are my big celebrations…

Celebration #1
Son #2 got a job!
A real job!
As a carhop at a fast food chain!
I am really proud of the steps he has taken toward adulthood this year.

Celebration #2
Second Grade Science Fair
We have an amazing second grade team at my school. This week, the kids hosted their own "science fair." A few weeks ago, the older kids had their science fair. The second graders are completing a unit on sound and decided they needed to have a science fair too. Each child built an instrument- maracas, drums, guitars, etc. They also created science fair "boards" out of 12" x 18" construction paper, folded in thirds. Yesterday, they had a science fair- they set up tables in the auditorium and invited all of the primary grade classes. I loved hearing about what they had learned and playing their instruments. I loved the huge joy they found in their learning!

Celebration #3
International Hug Day
Our sixth graders decided that Thursday was International Hug Day. I have no idea if this is an actual day or if the kids just made it up (maybe the sixth grade girls just wanted excuses to chase the boys around the playground), but Thursday, as I did recess duty, I was greeted with at least a hundred hugs. Yesterday, some of the kids decided that the hugs felt so good that they would just continue the tradition for a day or two longer. A couple of kids I know are going through really tough times, and I was really glad to have a good excuse to hug them, without embarrassing their adolescent selves.

Celebration #4
Middle School Social
Yesterday, our sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, had a "social" at the end of a day. A social, as best as I can describe it, is kind of like a dance- it was in the school cafeteria, they had music and a concession stand and we turned out most of the regular lights. Our fifth and sixth grade teachers did a really good job of picking songs- shuffles and line dances and dance competitions- there wasn't a lot of "coupling" and the kids had a blast.  I helped at the concession stand and it was just a really fun to see the kids having so much fun!

Celebration #5
Professional Reading
My district, like many others, is really emphasizing data-driven instruction. It's been hard, for me at least, to figure out how to balance looking at data with professional reading, authentic conversations about good practice, etc. Recently, however, we have implemented a book study- our primary grades are reading Fisher and Frey's Better Learning Through Structured Teaching and coupling it with some articles, etc., on guided reading (on Tuesday, we get to go see Linda Dorn as part of a district professional development day). The intermediate grades are reading Notice and Note.  On Thursday, at grade level meetings, we had some rich, rich conversations. I love my school and am so honored to get to be a part of the terrific work that they are doing!

Head over to Ruth Ayres Writes for a lot more celebrations!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quick Slice

On Saturday I wrote about all of the great sessions I attended- Regie Routman, Ellin Keene, Mark Overmyer, Doug Frey, Donalyn Miller-- last weekend at our state reading conference. I love getting to hear all of those amazing speakers, but really that's only a small portion of the conference for me. As much as I love the speakers, I love getting to connect with cherished friends from any number of previous lives.

I am walking into the conference on Thursday morning, and I run into Lori Conrad. Lori and I have known each other for a long, long time. One semester (or maybe two?) we taught a course at CU-Denver. We end up sitting together at several general sessions. As the keynoter struggles with her computer, Lori and I decide that we miss the days of overheads, when the worst thing that happened was that you dropped the whole folder and had to reorder everything.

Lori and I are joined by Missy, the language arts coordinator from another district. Missy was in one of the first classes I ever taught at UCD. At that point, she had been teaching two or three years, was recently married, and just starting a family. Now she's a mom of three and her oldest daughter is a freshman in high school.

In the exhibit hall, I run into another friend. K retired several years ago, to spend more time with her husband, who has a long term physical disability. She's written an alphabet book, illustrated by her son.

Outside the general session, I see another dear friend from my CCIRA exec board days. She has retired from a previous life as a principal, married off her only daughter, sold her house, and entered into a relationship after twenty plus years as a single mom. I sign up for a book group, just so I can get to talk to her occasionally.

And then I see another CCIRA friend, Judy, who is planning a trip to Finland this summer. Yet another friend shows me pictures of five grandchildren (last year when we talked she had two!) I talk books with Marci, who chairs the Colorado Children's Book Award. I'm blown up when she shows up at my session the next morning with Joy Sidman's new blessings book, such a special gift!

Walking through the atrium, I encounter two teachers from my Stedman days. We talk about babies and retirees and books. And then I find myself seated next to another  former colleague at a meeting. She was a dynamic young teacher with only a couple of years under her belt. I had heard she'd had an awful year at a charter school, and I'm glad to learn that she has stuck it out and is still teaching. Our profession needs people like her.
One of my favorite things about CCIRA is taking new teachers from my building. This year I talked one of the fifth grade teachers into going. It was so fun to share a whole new world of professional development with her. She told me today that she was so tired she slept for 11 hours straight after the conference! 

I love CCIRA. The speakers are fabulous. But for me, that's only half the conference. The other half, equally rich, is all of the amazing people I get to see one time a year. That might even be my favorite part of the conference!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Pile of Primary Valentine Books

One of my core beliefs is that kids get better at reading by massive amounts of text. When I taught first and second grade, I always wanted to make sure that there were lots of books that my kids could actually read. One time I found a box of "I CAN READ" books in my parents' basement. Even though they were from the sixties and didn't have the greatest pictures, my students loved them and read them until the covers literally fell off.

I'm delighted, then, that new I CAN READ books are being released almost every week. JUST A LITTLE LOVE features Little Critter whose family seems beset by disasters- illness, bee stings, traffic tickets, all things that can be fixed by a little love . The text is not too hard and there's good picture support. Perfect for kids who are just getting the hang of the reading game.

IT'S VALENTINE'S DAY is another book in the I CAN READ series. This book, first published in 1983, features Valentines poems by Jack Prelutsky. Some are silly and some are sweet. I think this will be the one I feature on Friday:

I love you more than applesauce
than peaches and a plum
than chocolate hearts and cherry tarts
and berry bubble gum.

I love you more than lemonade
and seven layer cakes,
than lollipops and candy drops,
and thick vanilla shakes.

I love you more than marzipan
and marmalade on toast,
Oh I love pies of any size,
but I love you the most.
Jack Prelutsky
 Emily is making a special Valentine card that includes all of her favorite things. Her friend Foxy hopes that he will be on the card, but is a little sad to discover that Emily likes hot chocolate with marshmallows, and balloons, and rainbows and umbrellas better. But wait, there's a surprise at the end!

TULIP AND REX - a sweet book about a little dancerina and the dog friend she finds in the park.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Discover. Play. Build.


This weekend was our state reading conference and tonight I'm celebrating that experience. I've attended CCIRA for more than thirty years, since I was a senior in college. Don Carline, my reading professor at CU, was the president that year. He strongly encouraged, maybe even required us, to visit the conference. None of us had the money to register for sessions, but we walked around the exhibit hall and picked up all kinds of freebies. And now, thirty years later, I'm still going.

This year, like every other year,  I had the privilege of hearing some amazing speakers:

Regie Routman, kicked off the conference with a great question, "What is the minimal scaffold we can provide the learner so he/she can become independent?"

Next, I listed to Ellin Keene. Ellin's latest work is about student engagement. Ellin asked about a million really great questions, ones I know I will be thinking about for a long time:
--> -->
  • Who’s in charge of student engagement? Is it the teachers or the students?
  • What is the difference between motivation and engagement? What about compliance
  • When we do things like "marbles in a jar" are we trying to buy engagement from kids? 

Ellin believes that the deepest engagement comes from the gut- an intellectual urgency or sense that "I must know more." I wonder how often we help students arrive at that place.

Another Colorado friend, Mark Overmeyer, talked about writing focus lessons and conferences. Any time I see Mark's name on a program, I will attend because I know I will be a better teacher of writing afterwards. That was definitely true this time!

 Peter Johnston also talked about engagement. He and Gay Ivey have recently completed a study of eighth graders' levels of engagement when they are allowed to choose books for independent reading. Johnston and Ivey discovered that these students not only became better readers, but also experience other benefits, including more positive social skills, have larger social networks and are viewed more positively by peers.

 David Harrison shared decades, actually almost half a century, of his life as a poet. Harrison suggested that children become poets and develop a sense of language inside the womb, when they listen to their mother's heart beat and the gurgling noises inside their mother's bodies. So cool to think that children are born with a sense of poetry.

Doug Frey gave a fascinating talk about his experiences as a reader, when he went back to school to study the brain. Frey got into a class where he was way, way, way over his head and drew on prior experiences as a learner- hunting down easier texts, finding videos on YouTube, using a styrofoam head created by his partner, Nancy Fisher, and buying meals for other students so they would study with him. 

Frey also had really interesting things to say about close reading, text complexity and text dependent questions. He used primary texts by Chief Seattle and by Dwight Eisenhower, right before D Day. Wow.

Finally, I heard Donalyn Miller, who is always brilliant.  Donalyn talked about the habits of lifelong readers. She said several things  that I will be thinking about for a long time.  
  • If kids are readers while they are in our classroom, but don't sustain that habit after they leave us, we have not really helped them. They need to sustain that habit indpendently.
  • If we are helping kids find books in October, that’s scaffolding, if we are still doing that in April, it’s dependence.
And besides all of this great thinking, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a number of colleagues and friends. I laughed with Lori Conrad about how much easier life was when we used overheads (am I dating myself). I had coffee with Claudia, who hired me to work in the Denver Public Schools.  I sat with Missy Matthews, who was in some of the very first graduate classes I ever taught at UCD and is now a high mucky in a close by school district. I got to talk to folks who served with me when I was on the Executive Board at CCIRA. And so many others…

Tonight I'm celebrating a terrific three days of learning and connection and rejuvenation.

Head over to Ruth Ayres' blog for a lot more celebrations.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Thursday afternoon.
Snow and twenty degrees in Denver. 
I do lunch duty, tie up a few odds and ends,
then head to the airport.
The ocean is waiting.

Two hour delay.
It is dark when we arrive in San Diego.
Friday morning I wake early. 
Watch for the first traces of light. 
The ocean is waiting.

My travel companions are still sleeping.
I slip out a back door.
Climb the stairs to a bern.
And see
 the ocean.