Friday, February 27, 2015


My large urban district, rarely, actually almost never calls a snow day. The plowing teams are terrific, we don't have any rural schools, and our parents, mostly working poor, depend on us not only to educate their children, but also to care for them during the day, and feed them breakfast and lunch. 

Yesterday was different. It's been snowing off and on since Monday and there's more than a foot on the ground (I know people on the East coast have a lot more). For some reason, the superintendent decided to call a snow day, but he didn't do it until after six. By that point, I was already on my way to school. This is an abecedarian, 

"Anatomy of a snowy morning"

Alarm goes off extra early, I lay there
Building the day’s schedule
Checking agendas for five vertical team meetings, and tonight’s two hour inservice
Dreaming dogs groan as I
Exit that haven of warmth and head to the cold kitchen
Feels like -5, according to weather channel, even though it’s actually a balmy zero
Gotta shovel the six inches of snow that have fallen overnight
Helping to make this February the third snowiest on record
Icy sidewalks, icy windshield, icy cold car
Just doesn’t want to warm up and I
Keep counting pennies, contemplating sandy beaches while wiggling frozen toes
Longing for lavender tulips and yellow daffodils,
Major thoroughfares are clear as I
Navigate the nearly empty early morning streets with
Only a few slip and slides arriving at school
Parking lot empty except for lunch ladies and one first year teacher
Quiet school is waiting and I think there
Really should be a few more people
Starting to arrive, until custodian appears and
Tells me the superintendent has called a snow day
Up until 6:00 when I left home it was
Very cold, but the district website said the buses would be running
Why wouldn’t there be school
eXtreme cold and a minor blizzard never stopped us before
Yawning, I head to my office thinking

Zealous early birds do not always catch the worm.

(c) Carol Wilcox

Poetry Friday is at Heidi's My Juicy Little Universe

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


"Driving Lessons"

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

A friend tells me
about the first lesson
his  professor
taught her African American son
after he got his driver's permit
if you get pulled over
immediately place your hands squarely
at ten and two
do not touch the gear shift
do not reach down into your pockets
do not fumble in the glovebox
for the car insurance
or registration papers
place your hands at ten and two
and yessir nosir
until you are told to do otherwise

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

when my son's
rearview mirror
inexplicably falls off
I immediately call the dealer
order the part
and then the car sits
in front of our house
for almost two weeks
while we wait for the part
because black men
with defective cars
get pulled over
patted down
on the side of the road
while all the neighbors watch

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

our license plates expire this month
it has been a hard month
with a six hundred dollar plumbing bill
and the toilet still gurgling
and me trying to ignore it
because there is nothing left in the bank
but we have two sets of license plates
set to expire
and i will replace my son's
before payday
because he is a six foot five
black man
and black men get pulled over
sometimes even shot
by well-meaning
but nervous police officers
and it makes my stomach roll
to think about
all that blood

I must teach my sons
how to drive
in America.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Discover. Play. Build.

Every week,  people from all over the world meet at Ruth Ayres' place to celebrate happenings from their week. Usually I don't get my act together to celebrate, but yesterday I was invited to a huge celebration. In this age where rigor too often  seems synonymous with ridiculously difficult, and where engagement is forgotten way too often, there are still teachers who continue to do amazing work, and I just felt like this needed to be shared. 

In my district, each grade level does an author study. The fifth grade author is Roald Dahl, and for the past six weeks, our students have immersed themselves in his work. I recognize that some people do not believe in asking all students to study the same author, but that's part of our district curriculum, and we work really hard to make it meaningful and engaging for students. 

Each fifth grader has heard/read at least three Roald Dahl books (and many have read more). They've also read a biography, excerpts from BOY, and fractured fairy tales from Dahl's REVOLTING RHYMES. Yesterday they celebrated their expertise by inviting the fourth graders and a few adults to share their final products. I apologize that there are no students in these pictures- I took lots, but I'm not sure who has photo permissions and who doesn't. I wish you could have seen their smiles, but also how nervous they were, and how serious they were about sharing their work.  I'm not a photographer, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words…

A banner welcomed the fourth graders to the fifth classroom. 

Desks were arranged in a big U around the outside of the classroom. Each student  displayed the books they had read, their research file, an author timeline, their pamphlet of book reviews,  
and a five paragraph literary analysis essay. 

Guiding questions for learning about Dahl's life, 
surrounded by some Roald Dahl timelines

Close reading of Roald Dahl biography. Sorry it's sideways!

Another timeline, close up


 Students compared two of Dahl's books to begin to identify commonalities.

They then used these characteristics to track the commonalities across other Dahl books. I'm not sure if you can read it but the boxes outlined in pink are related to language, those related to blue are related to plot. Book titles are listed down the left side, then students rated each book with a plus, check, or slash to indicate the presence of a particular characteristic. They totaled the columns to decide whether a characteristic always, usually, occasionally, or rarely appears in Dahl's books. 

Roald Dahl pamphlets. These included an introduction and three book reviews. The colored squares represent the results of the semantic feature analysis. Roald Dahl always, Roald Dahl usually, etc. …

The back side of the pamphlet, where students identified theme 
and cited the evidence that led them to draw their conclusions.

Students used Alphaboxes to gather interesting vocabulary.

 Finally, they wrote and revised five paragraph literary analysis essays. 

 Our kids just LOVE Roald Dahl.
I just love kids doing 
reading, writing and thinking!

Head over to Ruth Ayres blog for lots more celebrations. 


There's nothing I like better than a good dog story. I found two at the library today. Both of these would be just plain great read alouds for younger kids, but could also be used to teach point of view to intermediate or middle school readers. 

The narrator of this story is a dog. A very independent dog. He fetches his own slippers, curls up at his own feet, and wouldn't sit if someone told him, even if there was a bone involved. He throws his own sticks for fetching, and tells himself he is a good dog. 

Except one day he needs a spot on his back scratched. And then the guy follows him home. So he as to get him a leash. And teach him commands. And clean up the ice cream he spills. 

Perfect for any dog owner!

DOG DAYS OF SCHOOL-Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs

Charlie does not like going to school. On Sunday nights, his stomach does flip-flops and he can't fall asleep. "You're lucky you don't have to go to school," Charlie tells  tells his dog, Norman. The next morning, when Charlies wakes up, he and Norman the Dog have switched roles. Norman goes to school all week- he makes a clay sculpture, plays the maracas, goes on a  field trip, and even eats a triple hot fudge banana sundae with extra whipped cream. Charlie stays home-- drinking out of the toilet, learning how not to play fetch (with a skunk) and visiting the groomer.

A really fun role reversal book. Also a terrificback-to-school read aloud! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Today is one of my all-time favorite days of the year- Nonfiction Picture Books 10 for 10. Thanks to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for inventing this fabulous (and very expensive) event. You can read all of the NF 10 for 10 posts here.

Apparently I missed the boat last summer, because I did nonfiction picture books during the Picture Book Ten for Ten last summer too. Oops! Oh well, you can never have too many nonfiction picture books in your collection, right? Anyway, I served as a CYBILS judge on the elementary nonfiction committee this fall, and had the privilege of reading 108 fabulous new nonfiction picture books. Almost all of these are from that list. Many of them I have reviewed on my blog,  I tried to link those to the more complete reviews. 

Everyone knows about Ruby Bridges, not nearly as many know Sylvia Mendez who paved the way for Hispanic children in California approximately ten years before Bridges. I love FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING, the book that won the CYBILS this year,  but SEPARATE was my personal CYBILS winner. 

If:  A Mind Boggling New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David Smith
Each page in this book could pretty much be its own stand-alone spread. I lent this one to a sixth grade teacher at our school and don't think I'll ever see it again. 

This was my, "Darn it, I really wanted it to make the finals list for the CYBILS," this year. SHARKS is Roy's first picture book, and it's a really unique blend of picture book, and heavier text pages. Her diagrams are perfect for a nonfiction text features lesson. 

This one the CYBILS this year.  Beautiful, beautiful language (perfect for any mini-lesson on how writers use language, and lovely nature journal-like illustrations). 

Beetle Busters-Loree Griffin Burns
 OR Chasing Cheetahs OR Sea Turtle Scientists
I pretty much love any book in the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series. 
This year there has been a bumper crop.

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses by Rebecca L. Johnson
Gross photographs, fascinating factual information, terrific format!

Biography about the inventor of the ferris wheel. Perfect for a unit on inventors or on perseverance!

The power of narrative! I love the quotes about how people can use anger to bring good or to destroy. I copied them down in my journal and have shared them more than once. The illustrations in this one are fabulous!

Had to include my favorite Colorado nonfiction illustrator on the list somewhere! 
Jennifer Ward's text and Jenkin's illustrations are a terrific combination. 

Water Can Be- Laura Purdie Salas
I couldn't have a nonfiction list without at least one poetry selection, and no one does it better than Laura Purdie Salas. This book is actually part of a series, there are two more- A Leaf Can Be has been out for a year or two and A Rock Can Be will come out in March. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


"I knew him when…"

I cannot believe it when I get the call.

I knew him when
he was four years old,
a much-loved only child.
Standing at the door of my office
He had just learned to sing
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt.
"Miss Carol, can I sing you a silly song?"
His mother told me to say no,
that once he had started
he would sing it
again and again and again
but I said yes
told him that I had learned that song
when i was about his age
And together we sang it together
again and again and again.

I knew him when he was seven
and I had just adopted my boys
was worried that Son #2
didn't have any friends
so his mom sent her son
to play at our house
Kadeem didn't know you were supposed to offer
your friend a turn on the game controller
or pour two glasses of lemonade
when you went to the kitchen to get a snack
so he taught Kadeem
how to treat a friend
patiently reminding him
over and over again

And I knew him when he was eight
It was the first season of football
And he was a head taller
and twenty five pounds heavier
than any other kid on the team.
I helped his mother
ease the too-tight jersey
over his shoulder pads
then slit the sleeves
so they wouldn't cut off
the circulation
in his arms.

And I knew him when
he was eleven and twelve and thirteen
the middle school summers
when he slept at my house
almost as many nights
as he slept at his own.
I picture him sitting on the porch
when I drove up,
carful of groceries.
It didn't matter
whether my boys were with me or not
he'd stay and help me unload groceries
usually grabbing a handful of chips
or popping the lid on a Pepsi
as he sorted cans into the pantry.
My boys told me to go to the store
when Big Will wasn't there
because he would eat
half the groceries
before he left.

And I knew him when
he was fifteen and sixteen
best friend of my son,
the varsity quarterback
side by side on the bench
lacing up their cleats
before practice.
After a missed pass or an interception
Zay would stand
on one side of Kadeem
Big Will on the other
fiercely protecting my baby
from the jeers of the crowd.

And I knew him when
he was seventeen and eighteen
when pot became a huge issue
and I begged and cajoled
and threatened
we both cried
when I said
he couldn't come
to my house anymore

and i missed
the gentle spirit
housed within that enormous body
and I hoped that someday
he and my son
would find each other again
I was glad to hear
that he was doing so well
in the engineering college
at our university

then I got the call last week
he was in jail
until his parents could post
the seventy-five hundred dollar bond
for three charges
of felony sexual assault
he had been thrown
out of the university
date rape
I was heartbroken
wondered what combination
of drugs and alcohol
had led to such pure stupidity
could not believe this gentle giant
could be guilty
of a such a violent crime

i knew him when…

Friday, February 13, 2015


I was making a quick dash through the exhibit hall at our state reading convention last Friday when I came across a game for poetry lovers. I didn't have the opportunity to play it, but it looked like it would be perfect for a Poetry or Game Station, or indoor recess, or family game night.

From the website
 Haiku You!  is made up of a few syllables on little cards with a brief score sheet, a tiny timer and a teeny pencil in a small tin box. But the big game is found in the limitless imagination and startling creativity of the players – often in the ones who are sure they have neither.  Simple, easy and constantly surprising, Haiku You! reveals the bold, competitive, soulful and occasionally quirky qualities of your friends and families – and possibly of you.

Objective:  Correctly construct a haiku in under one minute based on the first line which is provided on a “Haiku You!” game card. Each player competes for points based on speed, accuracy, creativity and use of the secret words, called “noble” words printed at the bottom of the “Haiku You!” game card. The game ends when a player is the first to score 500 pts. or when all players have had a chance to be“Haiku Master”.
The Haiku You website is here. 

Cathy Mere is hosting Poetry Friday today!

Thursday, February 12, 2015


ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is my latest adult read.
Historical Fiction.
Good and evil.
Amazingly crafted.
Beautiful writing.
I loved it.

ALL THE LIGHT is the story of two characters, a little French girl, Marie Laure, and a German boy, Werner. Marie Laure lives with her father, who is a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in France. Marie-Laure is blind, and her father has built a tiny village, totally to scale, so that she can memorize, then traverse her neighborhood. When Paris is occupied by the Nazis, Marie-Laure and her father travel to the seaside town of Saint Malo to live with an uncle, whose own WWI experiences have left him an agoraphobic. Marie-Laure's father carries a valuable gem, a treasure given to him by the museum to protect.

Far away, Werner is an orphan, growing up with a younger sister in Nazi Germany. Their father was killed in a mining accident, and the two siblings live in a kind of foster home. Werner is fascinated by electronic devices and becomes an expert at repairing and transmitting messages by radios. These skills lead him to a place in the Hitler Youth. Werner's job is to use the radio to ferret out nationalists who are transmitting messages for their countries, a job which he likes less and less.

Doerr's crafting of the book is pretty much genius. When the story opens, both Marie-Laure and Werner are in the war-torn town of Saint Malo in France. Doerr then takes the reader back in time, alternating chapters of Marie-Laure and Werner. Throughout the book, the reader knows that somehow the two characters paths are going to cross, but it's hard to imagine when or where that intersection might occur.

I devoured the book the first time for the story, which I totally loved. It's probably geeky, but this weekend I'm planning on reading the book again, this time to pay more attention to how Doerr crafted the book, because his use of time, and his back and forth between the characters is pretty much amazing. I'm going to be taking lots of notes because we have book club next weekend and I want to be prepared. This is also one of the those books with lots of really powerful lines, the kind you copy down and think about for a long, long time.

ALL THE LIGHT is a long one (544 pages!) but it's well worth the read!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Last weekend I attended our state's annual reading conference, which was, as always, fabulous. Kelly Gallagher, author of READICIDE and WRITE LIKE THIS (among others) gave two of my favorite sessions. He talked about upping the volume of kids' writing by having them do lots and lots of quick "writing sneezes" andshared several of these "sneezes," including some where he and his students experimented with other author's styles. One sample was a paragraph from THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt. That book has been on my adult TBR list for a while but I haven't read it yet. I was intrigued by Tartt's style (I don't know if the whole book is written this way- YIKES!) and played around with it when I wrote my slice this week.  

"saturday afternoon"

at noon i leave three days of teacher nirvana and before i leave i look up the number of nissan because they were supposed to call me back three days ago and no one has and i sit in my car and call them again and the guy in the parts department is very nice but has never heard anything about my son's car and he needs to know which windshield wiper is broken which of course i do not know and he needs the VIN number which I also do not know and i try to call my son and of course he does not answer and i call my other son and of course he does not answer and i text my sons and finally one sends back the vin and says both windshield wipers are broken and i call the car dealer back and he tells me the vin number is wrong but then he finds it and he quotes a price that clutches in my throat then recants and says maybe we don't need 75 windshield wiper arms maybe we just need a 2 dollar pin and i pray that is the case and then he puts me in hold to make a service appointment and by that time i am at the grocery store and i only have a little time today so i push the cart with one hand and hold onto my flip phone and the grocery list with the other and then finally after 19 minutes and 34 seconds, when i turn the aisle to canned goods, halfway through the store i give up and hang up and call the service number again and it only takes ten minutes to make the appointment for ten on monday and finish shopping with the exception of half of the specialty hair and face products items my sons think they need and I also do not buy cashew butter which costs eight dollars for a jar which looks like it might make two sandwiches nor do i buy organic honey which costs three times as much as the plain old store brand and by the time I go through the check out it is 1:08 and i have to make it home and unload all these groceries and change my clothes and be across town for a meeting at two

and the grocery store clerk is named David, just like my dad,
and he is so, so sweet
and tells me how he speaks english and spanish
and he loves the macaroni and cheese i buy
and can eat almost a whole box but he doesn't do that any more he only eats a half box
18 years old finishing high school at the alternative school
and he really wants to go to art school
but he has to earn the money for tuition himself
i am in such a hurry
but he is so sweet
and i force myself to slow down and breathe
and be in the moment
and I wonder why a kid this incredibly sweet and hard working
cannot be successful in our local school system
and i wonder why we can not ever get it right
with these high school kids

and traffic on colorado boulevard is horrible and i wonder why but then i find out it s a free day at the zoo which totally explains everything and it takes 45 minutes to make a twenty minute drive and i throw the groceries at my sons and run down stairs and throw on a new shirt because i have to go to a funeral and we are supposed to wear bright clothes and i did not know that when i got dressed this morning and i get back on colorado boulevard and head for the coffee shop and meet the second grade teachers and we drink nonfat chai latte and plan for two hours and then the second grade teacher on maternity leave arrives with her sweet three month old and i try to hold him and he screams and i hand him back and we plan some more and she take him in the bathroom and feeds him and we plan some more and the other second grade teacher holds him and he does not cry and then her phone rings and i try again and he screams again and i hand him back and they move onto math and i get on the highway in yet another traffic jam and i wonder where i could move and not live without a car and i go to the funeral

and there is almost no one there when drive up and i wonder how to comfort this sweet young woman a former mentee whose mother her only family has died of pancreatic cancer and then more people come and by the time the actual service starts over one hundred friends and colleagues are there to honor this single mom it is a night of stories laughter and tears and brave sara only child gives the eulogy for her mother and we hug and cry and i come home and collapse on the couch and talk to my mom on the phone and tell her of course i am not too tired and i will definitely be there tomorrow to take her to lunch and the grocery store.

Monday, February 9, 2015

KATE AND PIPPIN- Martin and Isobel Springett

KATE AND PIPPIN: AN UNLIKELY LOVE STORY is the winner of this year's Colorado Children's Book Award. Books for this award are nominated, then voted on by the children of Colorado. I'm often surprised by the book that they choose.

KATE AND PIPPIN is the story of a fawn who was abandoned at birth. Isobel Springett, a professional photographer, discovered the fawn on her farm on Vancouver Island. Pippin was immediately adopted by Isobel's Great Dane, Kate. Over the next several years, Isobel used her camera to capture their friendship. Her photographs could easily be a wordless picture book.

KATE AND PIPPIN have a website.

And a Facebook page.

And a sequel!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


So many silenced ones.
So many stories waiting to be told.

Early January.
The quarter changes and the music teacher
puts up a new bulletin board.
Eighth grade photographs.
Memories of their time at our school.
"What will you be remembered for?" the music teacher asks.
"I don't think anyone will remember me," says A
on the paper hanging beneath his picture.
And I feel sad
that this kid
who has been at our school
since kindergarten
thinks no one will remember him.
He has stories waiting to be told. 

Friday morning
I am escorting the sixth grader
back to class
after a meeting
We talk about the weather,
yesterday's basketball game
and the upcoming soccer season.
I know his dad is a coach
and I ask if he will be playing.
No, he says, that's baseball season.
"Do you play baseball?" I ask.
"Yeah," he says proudly.
"Really? What position?"
"I'm a pitcher," he says,
and the smile extends ear to ear.
I wonder how I could have known this child for three years
And not have known this
clearly important fact.
He has stories waiting to be told.

Friday afternoon.
I am at my assigned post
passing out cell phones after school.
The fifth grader, new to our school,
comes to pick up his phone.
I ask if he has any plans for the weekend.
"I'm gonna go with my dad," he says.
"We sell corn."
"Corn?" I ask.
"Yeah, my dad roasts it in the garage
and then we go to a church and sell it in the parking lot.
We do it every weekend.
At least one hundred pieces."
"Every weekend?" I say.
"Yeah, my dad works other jobs too,
building apartments,
but we do this on the weekend.
And I wonder whether anyone else knows
about this budding entrepreneur.
He has stories waiting to be told.

I watch her at the basketball game.
An eighth grader. New last year.
Sweet. Quiet. Absent a lot.
Last year she ate lunch every day
with her older sister.
This year she has made friends
with another new student
who plays on the basketball team.
Today she has come to cheer for her best friend.
She does not sit with the other students
on the stage at the end of the gym.
Instead she stands alone
no one invites her to sit with them.
No one calls her over.
She has stories waiting to be told.

She comes to find me every day at lunch recess.
A big girl. Almost six feet. Probably over two hundred pounds.
Slow thinking. Slower talking. No friends.
"Miss," she says shyly. "Do you like crafts?"
I laugh. "I'm not very good at that kind of stuff," I say.
"Do you?"
"I love them," she says.
"You do? You'll have to bring something to show me."
A few days later she brings a handful of rubber band art.
She pulls twenty or thirty
rings, bracelets, key rings
out of her pocket.
"A dollar apiece," she says.
"Which ones do you want?"
And we become fast friends.
Craft partners.
She has stories waiting to be told.

So many silenced ones.
So many stories waiting to be told.