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.

Friday, August 10, 2018

PICTURE BOOK 10 for 10

Picture Book 10-for-10 is one of my favorite days of the entire year! It's the day I have to hide my debit card, so I don't go totally out of control buying all of the new books that people share. Some years I am wonderfully clever, and actually have a theme. This year I'm just sharing some books that I am looking forward to reading when school starts next year. You can check out a zillion great collections (remember to hide your debit card first!) in the Google PB 10-for-10 community.

by Ryan T. Higgins
When Penelope Rex arrives at the first day of school, she discovers that all of her classmates are children. She eats them, because children are delicious. The next day she goes back with good intentions, but again accidentally eats a classmate. It takes Walter, the class goldfish, to teach her an important lesson. Thanks to the ever brilliantTamara Jaimes for sharing this one with me!

as told by Dave Horowitz
Once there was an old stonecutter named Stanley (who just happens to be a frog). He was good at his job, but stonecutting was hard and Stanley wanted to do something a little easier. On the way back from the quarry, one day, he noticed a businessman sipping tea, and wished he could do that. And somehow magically he was a businessman, and then the king, and then he got tired of that and wanted to be the sun and, well you get the picture! Be sure to read the author's note at the beginning

Minh Le and Dan Santat
An Asian grandfather babysits his very assimilated American grandson. At first, the two don't seem to have much to say to each other, but then their sketchbooks create common ground.

by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz
Every time Wilson goes to visit his grandmother, he makes a promise about all of the things he wants to do to her old rundown house. Gigi assures him that she is just fine, and that he is enough for her. Wilson also tells other people, including the ice cream man and the librarian, about Gigi's house, and one day the community arrives to help.

by Liz Garton Scanlon and Lee White

Once there was a man
living all alone in a creaky 
house on the tip-top of a steep hill.

All is well until the wind starts to blow. 

The wind blew until the 
shutters banged in the creaky 
house on the tip-top of the
steep hill.
The wind blew, the
shutters banged, and
the boards bent. 

The man is sad until a little girl named Kate arrives and plants trees. A lovely cumulative picture book about our ability to take care of our world and about  the power of trees.

by Troy Hall and Richard Jones

Wednesday the Whale lives in a fishbowl. One day, a little girl named Piper approaches the bowl and tells Wednesday that she's lovely, but that she doesn't belong in there. Her words give Wednesday the courage to try something new. Pair this one with Dan Santat's AFTER THE FALL.

by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Matt Hunt
A family moves into a new house, only to discover that there is a walrus in the bathtub. The funnest part of this book is that each page is a different list, e.g. Bad things about having a walrus in the bathtub: 1) Clam shells  2) Screechy seagulls, 3) Bathtub tidal waves. A few pages later: Ways to try to get a walrus out of the bathtub: 1) Have a clam giveaway  2) Dress up like a killer whale  3) Dress your dad up like a lady walrus. 

by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas, illustrated by Nicola Slater
A beautiful story about the never-ending life of a tree. Based on these Wisconsin authors actual experiences-- a tree on Surratt's property is first home to animals, then a little girl's rope swing, built by a loving grandfather. Finally the tree succumbs to Dutch Elm disease and the community comes together to build a tree house around its trunk.

words by Sally Lloyd-Jones
pictures by Leo Espinosa

Three goldfish, Barracuda, Patch, and Fiss, live in a tall apartment building that overlooks an old broken-down fountain. One summer, a man arrives to fix the fountain, and then invites all of the goldfish  in the neighborhood to go on vacation for the summer. An author's note says that this is based on an actual fountain, the Hamilton Fountain, in New York City. 

by David Covell

Hey, you.
Sky's blue!
(forget your shoes)
that door

Sprout, you're out!
Chase the wind
     can you grab it?
A joyful, rhythmic poetic picture book about a child playing outside on a barefoot summer day.

Monday, August 6, 2018


One of the things I love most about summer is the opportunity to do more adult reading.  A couple of books from the summer…

THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Clemantine Wamariya was six when she and an older sister, Claire, fled their family's home to escape the genocide in Rwanda. Together, the two journeyed from refugee camp to refugee camp to refugee camp in Africa, and ultimately ended up in Illinois. This was a hard, sad book for me, but also a book that grew my understandings of the Rwandan genocide and of the challenges some of my immigrant children face. 

I can't remember where I heard about this book, first published in 2012, but evidently a lot of other people heard about it too, because I was on a wait list for six weeks at the library. Goff is a lawyer, and adjunct law professor at Pepperdine University, and most importantly a follower of Christ. Goff is also the founder of an organization that fights for children's rights in countries like Uganda, Nepal, and Iraq. This book is a series of short narratives, all stories from Goff's life, and the lessons or truths he has learned from each of these times. A couple of favorite quotes…

The world can make you think that love can be picked up at a garage sale or enveloped in a Hallmark card. But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s  a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright. What I learned from Randy about the brand of love Jesus offers is that it’s more about presence than undertaking a project. It’s a brand of love that doesn’t just think about good things, or agree with them, or talk about them. What I learned from Randy reinforced the simple truth that continues to weave itself into the tapestry of every great story: Love does.  pp 8-9

Maybe Jesus wants us to be secretly incredibly instead. That was His plan for self-promotion. Secretly incredible people keep what they do one of God’s best kept secrets because the only one who needs to know, the God of the universe, already knows. 160

God pursues us into whatever dark place we’ve landed and behind whatever locked door holds us in. He holds our unwashed and dirty hands and models how He wants us to pursue each other. Sometimes that means picking up a phone and asking a stranger to do something crazy at first. He invites us to leave perfectly fine careers like Charlie did, and rather than having us apply for a position, He says our lives are the position. And He says to ordinary people like me and you, that instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads, sometimes God wants us to keep our eyes open for people in need, do something about it, and bow our whole lives to Him instead. 181

Friday, July 27, 2018


Parsons Beach, Kennebunkport, Maine

Last week I was on vacation. Four days with dear friends in New Hampshire. Three days in a fabulous class, "The Power of Narrative," with Tom Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher, and Penny Kittle, and then three days soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean at a beautiful little beach in Maine. After I came back, Ralph emailed me (or wrote a comment on my Facebook page). I have been thinking about that line all week. Last night and this morning, I tried to make it into a golden shovel poem. Not sure I was totally successful, I had trouble with the lines that ended with "I" and "you."

Mermaid Dreams

I am fairly certain that
will soon become a mermaid, or at least I hope
that might be true. You 
might also consider this possibility, soaked 
in sand, sun, sea spray, the 
peace and power of the beach
travelling into 
the pores of your 
tired soul and healing your world worn heart.

Carol Wilcox

Catherine, at Reading to the Core, is hosting Poetry Friday. You'll definitely want to stop by- she's giving away a copy of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong's latest collection, GREAT MORNING: POEMS FOR SCHOOL LEADERS TO READ ALOUD.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

CYBER PD- Chapters 5 and 6

I'm participating in #CYBERPD this summer. This is my very late reflection on Chapters 5 and 6.

My superintendent is resigning, after ten years at a very hard job. At our first meeting of the year, he reflected on some of his accomplishments and then asked us to consider, "What do you want your legacy to be?" And of course, the first thing that popped into my head was that I wanted my students to be lifelong readers and writers. But, then, as I really thought about it, I realized it's really bigger than that. 

I want kids to be readers and writers, because I want them to be ready to live big in the world.   I want them to be ready to make a difference. I want them to understand that everyone has their own story. I want them to listen to other people's stories with grace and compassion. And I want them to be people who have the skills to tell their own stories, both verbally and in writing. 

And as much as I want those things for them, I want them for myself.  

I want to be a listener. A real listener. Someone who listens to understand. Not just someone who listens so that I can rebut, or have my turn to talk. I want this to be true in my professional life and I want it to be true in my personal life. I want to be slower to judge and slower to discount opinions that are different from my own.

I want to get out of my own echo chamber. It's so easy to hang out with people who believe/like the same things as I do. In the current political climate, I think that's especially true. It's hard for me to listen to people who support our current leader, even to read articles or watch their news shows, but I feel like I really need to at least try. I need to try to understand. 

That's true in my professional life as well.   I read a lot of professional literature, but I mostly read texts by people who believe the same things as I do. I think that's also true of children's literature. It seems like the same authors get promoted again and again and again. I want to push beyond those boundaries, to follow new blogs and new people, to explore new ideas and methods. 

I want to commit to a learning stance. I don't want to get out of my "echo chamber" only to say I'm getting out of my echo chamber, I want to go into interactions (with people and text) ready to learn and be changed. I really do want, as Ahmed suggests, to say, “OK, I know my truths, but I am going to listen and accept what this other person is saying also as a truth." And then I want to say, “What do I DO with these new truths?”

Get proximate to the human story. I want to be a doer. I want to get my hands dirty. To care enough to take action. And I want my students to do that too. I want us to pick a cause, either collectively or individually. Global warming? Plastic in the oceans? Gun control or gang violence in Denver? Gentrification in our school neighborhood? Our burr-ridden school playground? I want kids to choose a cause that is bigger than themselves, to research it, to develop a plan, and to take action. I want kids to learn that they can make a difference in the world.

I want to shine a spotlight on the upstanders. In my own life. In my classroom. In my school. In the world. The world seems so very dark right now. And it's easy to get caught up in all that darkness. I want to make conscious efforts, every single day, in my postings on social media, and in my dealings with my students, and others, to shine a spotlight. To bring joy. To bring hope and light.

I want to be proactive with my privilege. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" As an educated, middle class white woman, I have lots of privileges that others- my sons, my students and their families- don't have. Because of that, it really is my job to stay informed, to raise awareness, and to advocate for others.

I've been an educator for over thirty years. Pretty much every year, I have participated or developed some activity or program, formal or informal, to help kids develop their social awareness, to be kinder or more caring. A lot of it is pretty much just lip service. I have loved BEING THE CHANGE, because I feel like it's a book I can use, both to make change in the world, and to help kids make change in the world as well.

Thank you, Sara K Ahmed, for this very powerful book. I can't wait to start implementing these practices in my classroom.

Monday, July 23, 2018


Yikes! I've finished reading BEING THE CHANGE, and have pages and pages of notes, but somehow, I'm way behind on my responses. I'm not a very good group member this year! So sorry to all of my colleagues...

MicroAggression: Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional , which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” Dr. Derald Wing, Columbia University, quoted in Ahmed, p. 58.

Micro aggressions. It's so easy to think of those that have been committed against me. Shorty. Four eyes. You've never been married? Aren't you retired yet? I laugh them off, and yet even so, they really do hurt a little.

And then I think of those committed by well-meaning educators on a daily basis.

Not quite ten years ago. Two weeks into the school year. My phone rings and I see a number from the school district. It is my oldest son's English teacher. She introduces herself, and then explains that she is calling to talk about independent reading. Several times a week, students in her class are given time to read independently. They need to bring a book so they are prepared for independent reading. My oldest son, it seems, has not been doing this. She wonders if I could help? Do we have any books at our house? If not, she can help him check one out from the school library. I look at the two groaning, seven-foot bookshelves in my dining room, think of the teetering piles in my office, or the garage full of boxes of books, and assure her that we can probably find at least one book at our house.

The call amuses me more than a little, but at the same time, it's really not funny. I imagine the teacher pulling up my son's name on our district website. Making assumptions about my son. About our family. African American boy. IEP. Athlete. Single parent. Probably no books in the home. She does not know that I am a past president of the state reading association. Or that I am a teacher. She really does want to help my son.

This is maybe an extreme case, and yet I see teachers, including myself, commit micro aggressions all the time. These are the first few that came to mind:

1) The child shows up without school supplies.
Her parents expect me to supply everything.
Reality: The family is one step away from homelessness. They either pay the rent, and buy groceries, or they send school supplies. Hard choices.

2) The family is 15 minutes late, pretty much every day.
That mom needs to get organized. She needs to get her kids up earlier and get to school on time.
Reality: Mom is a cleaning lady at a hospital. She puts her kids to bed, and then goes to work. She gets off at 7:30, and races home to pick up her children. Even so, they are ten minutes late every day.

3) The parents that don't show up for Back-To-School Night or miss parent teacher conferences.
You know why that child isn't doing very well in school.
Reality: The single mom doesn't have any one to watch younger children, or doesn't have transportation to get to special events.

4) The child that is severely overweight, but comes with a large bag of chips, no fruit or veggies, every day.
That family doesn't care about their child's nutrition. Someone should call social services and report them for child abuse.
Reality: The school is located in a food desert. The family doesn't have a working vehicle. The local 7-11 is where they grocery shop. Sometimes there is fruit, mostly there is not. There are never vegetables. Convenience stores don't stock perishable goods.

5) The child has failed the last 3 (you fill in the blanks).
Teacher: You need to work harder. You need to study more after school.
Student: I do study. But it's hard to find a quiet place.
Teacher: Just go to your room and study

Reality: Seven people are living in a two bedroom apartment. There's no place to go to be alone. 

This chapter reminds me that all of us really do the best we can, pretty much every day. It's important to treat each other gently.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Like so many Americans, I live in a constant state of disbelief. Pretty much every day, and often several times a day, I say to myself, "How can this be happening?" And I send emails and sign petitions and make phone calls and give money and march and wonder when this nightmare will be over. I spend a lot of time, too,  wondering what to say to the children and young adults in my life.

Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson are releasing a new collection that may help, just a little. In the introduction to WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES they describe waking up the day after the election, wondering what they could say to the young people in their lives:

"We grew up in the segregated south, when life for us was much different than it is today. Racial discrimination, prejudice, and hatred against African Americans were pervasive. We were prohibited from going to school with White children, so we went to all-Black schools. We couldn't go to the public library that Whites used. We were forced to sit in a "special section" in movie theaters. We couldn't even try on clothes or shoes from the stores downtown. Our parents had to purchase them , bring them home, and then see if they were a good fit. If they weren't they couldn't be returned…

This segregated but unequal system we were forced to endure was extremely trying and often frightening. Yet in our all-Black communities, we were embraced by accepting arms, motivated by encouraging words, and shelted by watchful eyes that probed for signs of lurking dangers seeking to engulf us. We were loved! We knew it! we could feel it!…

"How could we share this valuable advice with you?" we thought. "How could we let you know that there are nuggets of sustenance for you just as there were for us when we were your age?"

That's how the idea for this treasury was born…

WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES is a collection of more than fifty texts- poems, prose, letters, essays, and art, all by contemporary authors of color. People like Arnold Adoff, Kwame Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Ashley Bryan, Floyd Cooper, Sharon Draper, Margarita Engle, Tony Medina, Marilyn Nelson, Ellen Oh, Eric Velasquez, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jacqueline Woodson, and oh, so many more. The book doesn't come out until early September, but it's definitely one you will want to preorder. Here are two of the many poems I know I will use.

We've Got You
Pat Cummings

The storm is coming.
There is always a storm
But we've got you.
We've weathered the fury
you're heading into
and we know how to shelter.
How to gather force.
We've seen where the storm
     is weak.
We've got you.
So tuck in,
     stay close,
        grow strong.
We're here. You're wind.

            And you?
                   You're our coming storm.

A Talkin-To
Jason Reynolds

I could tell you all the bad things,
all the bad things that cut and scare
and howl and growl and gnash and
bear teeth, bright and sharp that
glint in the moonlight.

I could tell you all that's frightening,
all that's frightening and lurking
and looming and hiding in the brush,
razor-hair pricked up on the back
of something too sly to see.

I could tell you about all the loud things,
all the loud things that scream
and shriek and shred our ability to hear
each other, the beasts behind screens,
scrolling banners of bully-banter

I could tell you all the things
all the things that are trying to tell you
about you, about how you should run,
and how you should run,
and how you should run,
but I'm about you above all things,
above all things, so I'd rather tell you
one thing and one thing only:

everything bad and frightening and loud
will always hide when you hold your head up,
will always hide when you hold your heart out,
will always sing a shrinking song
when you fly.

Sylvia Vardell is hosting Poetry Friday today. She and Janet Wong are releasing another fabulous new poetry collection! This one is for school leaders! I know what will be on my administrators' desks the first day of school.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

CYBER PD, Part One

I'm participating in CYBER PD, which I have done almost every summer for a number of years. This week, we are reading, BEING THE CHANGE: LESSONS AND STRATEGIES TO TEACH SOCIAL COMPREHENSION by Sara K. Ahmed.

I'm excited about the book, because this year I will have my own classroom, at least half time this year. I'll be teaching three sections of sixth grade language arts. My school is K-8, Dual Language. Since I started there, six years ago, we have always had two sections of every grade. This year, the primary grades are down a little, and the demand for our middle school was high, so we added another section of sixth grade. That means that approximately 45 of my students will have been together and known each other since kindergarten, and the other 20 are brand new to the school.

There is also a socioeconomic factor at my school. The majority of our existing students are working class poor. Many of our new students have come to the school because their families are interested in our dual language model. These students tend to be more middle class. They do interesting things on weekends,  go on vacations, have the cool toys that show up on television.  I suspect that this will also play a role in our classroom dynamics.

I also know that middle school is a hard, hard time physically, socially, and emotionally. I want to do all that we can to make every single kid feel comfortable and valued and loved and accepted and honored for who they are as a human being. I want to make sure that kindness is something that every single kid values and practices every single day.

For these reasons, my teammate and I know we are going to have to spend a great deal of time building community. I'm grateful then, for the suggestions in the book. I know I will use a lot of them. I especially love the ideas in chapter two, thinking about how to teach kids to "Listen with Love." That's an area I really want to work on this year.

One part of the book, however, did leave me with huge concerns. I'm going to address that in this next section.

Names: A Cautionary Tale
Once upon a time there were two little boys. The little boys had traveled an extremely rough road. Their own mama couldn't take care of them, so they ended up in a variety of less than savory situations. For a few months, they even slept in someone's garage. Finally, they ended up in the care of an evil queen. There wasn't enough food. They slept on mattresses on the floor. They were little and afraid and they sometimes wet the bed.  And then she beat them. Eventually, their principal found out. And they were taken out of that situation, and went to live somewhere else. At the new house there was food, lots of it. And there were toys and bicycles and a dog named Maggie who licked people's faces when they were sad. And things weren't perfect, but they were definitely much, much better.

Most of the time, anyway. One of the times that was hardest for the boys was when people asked them about their family. Their mom always told them that families are made lots of different ways. She told them that they could love more than one mom, and that the mom who had birthed them had done the best that she could. She told them that they could call her mom, or they could call her Miss C, or anything that felt comfortable to them.

Deep down inside, the boys knew that theirs was not an ordinary family. There was no dad. And their new mom wasn't a typical mom. She was a little older than most moms. And she didn't look anything like the boys. She was very short, and they were both tall and strong. She was white, and they had rich chocolate brown skin. When kids asked them about their family, they usually tried to change the subject.

And then there was that name activity. It always happened the first week of school. "Tell us about your name. Where did your name come from?" These boys had strong and wonderful names. Isaiah was one of the four major prophets of the Old Testament, and there's a whole book in the Bible named after him. Kadeem is a Muslim name. People with the name Kadeem are "very versatile, idealistic and intuitive. They are bold, independent, inquisitive and interested in research." 

The problem was, the boys had no idea why their biological mother, the person who named them, had picked these names. They didn't know the story of their names, and they didn't have any way of finding out. And it always caused problems that first week of school, when the "tell the story of your name activity came up." Their mother wrote down the generic stories behind their names, and put them in their backpacks that first week of school. She told them that they could talk about how their hyphenated last name had come to be, they knew that story well. They didn't want to do that. They wanted a first name story, just like everyone else's name story. And that made the first week of school really, really hard. Sometimes there were even behavior issues, because it was easier to draw attention in a different way than to admit that that they didn't know the story of their names. They were excluded from the classroom community from Day One. 

People who know me have probably figured out that the boys in this story are my sons. They were students at my school, and I adopted them, from the foster care system, at ages 7 and 9. We didn't know the stories of how/why they were named, and we didn't have any way of getting those stories. And it made for some really hard times. More than once, I got bad behavior phone calls the first week of school.

I don't know how I would address the name issue. I fully agree with Ahmed, that names are important. I work hard to learn kids' names, even before the first day of school. Most of my students are Hispanic, and in that culture, the child retains the name of both their mother and their father. I encourage my students to use their full last names, to honor both parents. I think it's incredibly important to pronounce peoples' names correctly.

I also know, though, that there are kids like my sons, who come from a hard background, who don't know the stories of their names, or who find those stories painful, and who would rather not remember or talk about their names. I don't know, then, exactly how I will approach this activity, but I know it will look very different in my class. We might look up what their names mean, but we probably won't do the "tell where your names come from." Not unless I can think of a different way to do it, that doesn't exclude kids who have already had a hard time in life.

Social comprehension. So important and yet so very complex....

Friday, July 6, 2018


I might have already told this story, but one of my first memories of poetry as an adult has to do with Naomi Shihab Nye. I was at the International Reading Association Convention (now the International Literacy Association) in San Antonio, in the late 1990's. My dear friend, Lisa Lenz Bianchi, and I were walking through a little shopping area close to the Riverwalk. Lisa, a poet and lover of poetry, noticed that Naomi Shihab Nye was doing a reading that night, and so we went.  Nye read poetry while her little boy, probably about four, played with a truck on the floor in the back of the room. And it was magical.

I'm always excited, then, when I find a new book by Naomi Shihab Nye. I grabbed an ARC of her latest book, VOICES IN THE AIR, at ALA, when it came to Denver in February. And like pretty much everything she has ever written, I love it. I say that with a caution, though. Naomi Shihab Nye regularly writes poetry (A MAZE ME), and picture books (SITTI's SECRET), and novels (THE TURTLE OF OMAN) for children and young adults; she's written more than thirty books. If you pick up VOICES IN THE AIR, expecting to add it to your classroom library, especially if you are an elementary teacher, you might be disappointed. There are poems in the book that I would use with children, but it's more a book for older students and also for adults.

VOICES IN THE AIR celebrates many of the people who have shaped Nye as a poet and as a human being.  Each page (or most pages) includes a dedication or a quote to that person, followed by an original poem; the review of the book says that there are over one hundred, but I didn't count. The range is wide- historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison, poets (Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry Longfellow) and people who live in Nye's world (her father, neighbors, etc). In the back of the book, there is a quick biography of each person. Nye's poems (and the introduction to the book, which is also beautiful) remind me to live well, to slow down, to be still, to pay attention and to listen, to others and to my own heart. A really important reminder during this hard and often awful time.

      for Vera B. Williams

Your mama will have a chair
Everyone will have a chair
There are enough chairs

In the dreams we share
desks with smooth wooden tops
name cards in calligraphy
cubbyholes under seats
what else might people be given?

When everyone sits calmly in chairs
Numbers march across pages
Letters line up friendly-fashion

Hopefully we might like those letters enough
to shape them into stories
Where have you been before here?
Who did you see?
A woman of sturdy conviction
clear, clear focus
making history with her hands

A garden, a muffin, a world
Greedy men say "More!" to war
Sitting together telling stories
could change that but who will take the time?
Missiles faster

All our lives to speak of simple things
turns out to be
most complicated

Naomi Shihab Nye


It's been a spectacular day, Grace!
We gushed
and she cleared her throat.
Not that great, she said--
but pretty good.
Didn't you like our long drive into the woods
     to see trees with rounded buttocks?
They were okay.
Our splendid dinner?
Grace, guide us. What is politics to you?
You are such a brave activist.
How do we live?
What do we do?
Politics is simply the way human beings
     treat one another on the earth.

Naomi Shihab Nye


News loves to be bad.
It's a bad habit.
Think of all the good things people do---
Right now, how many people in our own town
are stirring soup to give away...
Bad news still gets more attention.
trash talk, insult...
at some point you make a decision.
Which world?
Malala, smiling warmly, speaks of dreams,
girls going to school,
mutual respect.
The newscasters stick her in
after lots of badness.
They know we can only take so much.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Have a peaceful week…

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


I am a morning person. I love, love, love the early hours of the day. I bounce cheerily out of bed at a time my sons grumpily  refer to as the "butt crack of dawn," take my shower, have my breakfast, throw my teacher bag out of my shoulder, and I'm off. I'm pretty much always one of the first people in the parking lot at work.

Son #1, on the other hand, is NOT a morning person. When I adopted the boys, Son #1 was 9, and one of my biggest learnings that first year was that not everyone wakes up bright and cheery.  Not everyone wants to interact right away. Or eat breakfast. Son #1 and I have had many, ummm, less-than-stellar interactions in the morning.

Since the boys have been driving, it's been a little easier. You see, I'm usually gone long before they awaken. I sometimes text, or leave them a note, but I don't see my sons in the morning. And I think
that's better for all of us.

Except not in the summer. In the summer, I am around a little more. I see what's going on. And it pretty much makes me crazy.

Take this morning for instance.

I was awake right around 5. I had my shower, did a little spiritual reading and reflection, and then went to work around 6, in preparation for a meeting at 9:30. At about 7:20, it occurred to me that Son #1 was still not up. Son #1 has to be at work at 8. He works close to downtown. Downtown is about twenty minutes from our house, when traffic is good. At this time of day, traffic is never good. And he has to park in a lot and catch a van to his actual work site at 7:50

I wonder if I should wake him up, but remind myself he is an adult. He can set an alarm. He can get himself up.

At 7:24, I hear him emerge from his bedroom and head to the bathroom. Phew. But he is in there ten minutes. I know there is no way he will be on time. My stomach is in knots, but I don't say anything.

And then he comes out and is in his bedroom for another few minutes, presumably getting dressed.  I resist the urge to tell him that he is going to be late. He is an adult after all. He is supposed to be able to manage his own time.

At 7:41 he emerges from the bedroom, and saunters toward the door. Every fiber of my being feels the need to scream,"HURRY UP!!!! YOU'LL BE LATE. PEOPLE GET FIRED FOR BEING LATE!" I bite my tongue, look up from my computer, and smile.

"Goodbye, have a good day."

He smiles back and manages, what for him, a non-morning person, is a somewhat pleasant greeting. "Uh-huh." And then he walks out the door. At 7:42. He is definitely going to be late. But I didn't say anything. Crisis averted. 

I am so glad I am a morning person. I am really thankful I go to work before he gets up. I couldn't stand this every morning.

Friday, June 29, 2018


Vail, Colorado, July 2016

So today I think we will start the round up with celebrations. There are quite a lot, big and small. 

At "There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Country, " Ruth is celebrating the publication of our own Margaret Simon's brand new book, BAYOU SONG: CREATIVE EXPLORATION OF THE SOUTH LOUISIANA LANDSCAPE. Ruth begins by sharing her thoughts on a podcast, "Nature, Joy, and Human Becoming," which helped her think about how we might use Margaret's book to help children appreciate the natural world. (The podcast sounds absolutely wonderful, and I'm definitely going to go back and listen to it this weekend). Ruth then uses Margaret's "Ode to a Toad," to write her own "Ode to a Flamboyant Tree."

While Ruth is celebrating Margaret's book, Margaret celebrates a new friend, Gienah, that she met in a line at ALA, by writing a poem especially for her.

And then Molly Hogan celebrates the beginning of summer. First she celebrates a new month with an Elizabeth Coatsworth poem, "July Rain." And then she celebrates a really special gift she received in the mail from Margaret, as a part of the Summer Poetry Swap.

At A TEACHING LIFE, Tara Smith is definitely in a season of celebrating endings and new beginnings. She's very recently (last week, I think?) retired from teaching, and is packing her house, in preparation for a big move to a beautiful farm. In going through her children's drawers, she's uncovering lots of memories. She celebrates her son's early years in school with William Trowbridge's poem, "Taking My Son to His First Day of Kindergarten."

Catherine Flynn has a lot to celebrate this week! First, she had two original poems published in Linda Rief's new Quickwrites Handbook. Second, Catherine found a vintage Aileen Fisher book, FEATHERED ONES AND FURRY, (illustrated by Eric Carle) in a culled books box at her school. Catherine shares "Wrens"with us today.

Our favorite Aussie, Kathryn Appel, also has lots to celebrate this week. Her book, BULLY ON THE BUS, is making its way across the ocean, and will be published in the United States by Kane Miller.

Over at Teacher Dance, Linda Baie has two original poems. The first captures the desolation we are all feeling in these days, and the second, somewhat like the Lynn Ungar poem I shared today, reminds us to celebrate life's small goodnesses. Thank you, Linda!

From The Water's Edge, Erin brings us "Sunset on the Spire" by Eleanor Wylie, another collection of the small and lovely.

Donna Smith celebrates the power of the water with "Pulse," an original poem that she wrote earlier this week. Today she has photographs from a family trek to Camden, Maine, which is where poet Edna St. Vincent Millay comes from.

Kay McGriff's original poem, "How to Float Down a River," reminds me of how the water refreshes my spirit. Thanks for reminding me that I need to find some water time really soon!

Carol Varsalona wrote her first ever cherita to celebrate the colorful palette she finds every day in a garden. It's extra special because she waters her flowers with an heirloom watering can, owned by her grandmother!

Another theme that showed up today was big life truths. 

Tabatha Yeatts, the first poster last night had a found poem in a Harry Beston quote." I love thinking about how people are "sometimes very lovely flowers and are always more than flowers." Thinking her poem might be perfect for my sixth graders to read as they get to know each other and become a community this fall.

At Gathering Books, Fats Suela introduces us to more big truths in the poetry of Andrea Gibson. I can't help but imagine Lynn and Andrea talking to each other; I think they would have great conversations.

Michelle's entry, around the theme of responsibility and freedom includes original art and an original poem, which captures perfectly how so many of us are feeling about the situation on our southern border. Then, as if that was not enough, she also includes art from Charles' White's exhibition in Chicago.

Liz Steinglass visited the Holocaust Museum yesterday, then wrote "Shoes of the Dead." If I had to describe her poem, I'd use words like stunning and heartbreaking.  Do not miss it!

And then there are some terrific poems that don't fit into either of these categories...

After several days of record breaking temperatures in Denver, it's refreshing to read Laura Purdie Salas' poem, "A Thousand Nicknames for Snow." I love all of the different perspectives Laura brings in and am hoping she will say I can use it with my sixth graders this year.

I'm always intrigued by the journey people take in writing a poem, so reading about that was an added bonus to Keisha Shepard's original poem, Summer Wind, which was born after she heard a line in a song last week.

I have not yet tried writing a cherita, mostly because I think it would be really hard to shape a story in that way, but over at Random Noodling, Diane Mayr is continuing her series of ekphrastic cherita, this week's are about the circus. And at Kurious Kitty, Diane celebrates the life of Poet Laureate, Donald Hall.

Heidi Mordhorst helped kick start Taylor Mali's metaphor dice project, and she used her set to create a full length metaphor poem, "funhouse," in which she compares her heart to an "unruly mirror." Alas, those of us who didn't get a set of dice in the kickstart have to wait until November.

Little Willow has a really interesting poem, "Story," by Nayyirah Waheed. The last two lines:
            just because you were not writing
            does not mean you were not writing
intrigue me. I wonder, are there some genres, e.g. fiction, that I am always writing, whether it be in my head or on paper; and other genre, such as poetry, that are more elusive, and that I have down on paper more quickly, before I lose them.

Wishing you a terrific week!

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Welcome! Poetry Friday is here today!

Every time it is my turn to host Poetry Friday, I hope I will think of something special and wonderful and spectacular to share. Mostly I don't. But today, I think I kind of do have something, or at least someone, special and wonderful and spectacular! Please allow me to introduce you to Lynn Ungar. Lynn is a Unitarian minister, a dog trainer, a singer and contra dancer. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her wife and teenage daughter, and several dogs and cats.

Most importantly, at least for today, Lynn is a poet. I don't even know how exactly to describe her poetry, except to say that she uses small details to share big truths, just like Marge Piercy, and Mary Oliver, and Barbara Crooker do. She reminds to watch and breathe and celebrate the miraculous ordinary. And somehow, in these weeks when every day seems to bring new atrocities and new sadness, that's very comforting to me.  Here is a new favorite poem that I found on Lynn's website.

"The Last Good Days"
by Lynn Ungar

What will you do with the last good days?
Before the seas rise and the skies close in,
before the terrible bill
for all our thoughtless wanting
finally comes due?

What will you do
with the last fresh morning,
filled with the watermelon scent
of cut grass and the insistent
bird calling sweet  sweet
across the shining day?

Crops are dying, economies failing,
men crazy with the lust for power and fame
are shooting up movie theaters and
engineering the profits of banks.

It is entirely possible
it only gets worse from here.
How can you leave your heart
open to such a vast, pervasive sadness?
How can you close your eyes
to the riot of joy and beauty
that remains?

The solutions, if there are any
to be had, are complex, detailed,
demanding. The answers
are immediate and small.

Wake up. Give thanks. Sing.

Another poem I absolutely loved, and actually considered sharing, is  Camas Lilies

Lynn's Website is here
On the website you can read more of Lynn's poems. 
You can listen to Lynn read several of her poems, including "The Last Good Days."
You can read other writing by Lynn or read her musings, which are also poetry. 

You can buy Lynn's book, BREAD AND OTHER MIRACLES, here.

Leave your comments below and I will upload them throughout the day.

Wishing you peace…

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


I'm learning some new things about teaching this week.
I'm learning them from my dog.
I've had dogs most of my adult life.
First there was Ramsey, then Maggie, Star, then Jack, and finally Boo.
All of them have taught me something.
But this week I'm learning some brand new lessons.

It all started about a year ago. I ran into Debbie, a friend who I taught with years ago. Debbie was accompanied by Shadow, a huge black lab she is training for Canine Partners of the Rockies. I told her I have always wanted to do something like that, and she invited me to come to class with her some Saturday morning. I've been going since about November and recently, I decided to step up my game and become a puppy sitter. I actually want to raise a puppy but there are several other obstacles in the way right now.

To be a puppy sitter, you have to have a home visit. They check to make sure that your house is safe, and that you have a good fence. They also check out the pets that already live in the home. Debbie has worked with CaPR for several years, so she can do the home visits. Star is not always really excited about other dogs, but her dog Shadow, is really mellow, and really good with other dogs, so the director of CaPR thought it might work to try with him.

It didn't go well at all.

Debbie and I went to class one Saturday and then brought Shadow back to my house. We brought him in through the front door and let the dogs sniff each other a little. That went ok. As soon as Debbie let Shadow off the leash, however, the action began. Shadow immediately trotted over to Star's food dish. It was empty (like it is two minutes after I put it down every morning) and I didn't think it would be a big deal.

Star did. She did not want Shadow checking out her food bowl. If there was a single morsel left in there, she wanted to be the one to find it. She growled at him and showed her teeth.

It went similarly when he picked up a toy. We have had that toy since Christmas and Star has never played with it, so again, I didn't think it was a big deal. Star evidently did, because she growled and bared her teeth again.

Debbie put Shadow back on the leash and they left shortly after that. She and I pretty much thought that was the end of it. If Star couldn't get along with other dogs, even a really mellow, well-trained almost service dog, we definitely didn't think she could get along with any of the younger dogs, who are much younger and not nearly as calm.

The trainers from CaPR didn't think that was necessarily true. They wanted to come over with Pete, another dog in advanced training. They thought they could work with Star. They came last Thursday. They set up the learning conditions very differently. For starters, Pete didn't come in the house right away. First one trainer walked him down one side of the street and the other trainer and I walked Star. It was fine. Then we tried crossing the street and passing each other, first with the dogs on the outside, and then with the dogs on the inside. Everything was still fine. We walked to a nearby school and practiced passing each other, then walking side by side. Everything was fine, but I still wasn't convinced.

We brought the dogs back to the house and took them through the gate into the backyard. Pete had to check every corner of the yard. Star watched, but didn't approach him. Soon he was ready to play and bounded up to her. Lo and behold, she wagged her tail. They circled each other and began a vigorous game of tag. He found a ball in one corner of the backyard and tried to get her to play. And she did. Occasionally Star would fuss a little, but the trainers assured me it was no big deal; Star was just asserting herself and reminding Pete that she was the Alpha Dog here. Pete was more than willing to acquiesce. The trainers told me that Star could communicate with Pete much better than any of us could

Finally we tried taking Pete into the house. Before we did that, however, the trainers made me check to make sure the conditions were ripe for success. I had to pick up the food bowls and all of the toys and bones. Star's food canister, usually in the corner of our dining room, went into the laundry room, with the door shut.

Star and Pete came inside and Star was the hostess with the mostest. Friendly, mannerly, playful. Pete ended up coming back for the night. This week Shadow is here for the entire week and it's going fine. The two dogs play with each other for awhile, then, because it's really hot, they collapse on the cool wood floors. After a little rest, they are ready to go again.

As I'm watching them, I can't help thinking about school. Star wasn't successful at all, the first time we brought Shadow over, but it was because I set her up for failure. We didn't start slowly. We left the toys and food dishes, known sources of conflict, out in the open. When the CaPR trainers came, they started slowly and gave Star ample opportunities to be successful in a controlled environment. When we brought Pete back to the house, they again made sure conditions were right, and that they dogs could be successful.

Even though I am a pretty good reading teacher, with lots of strategies in my boxI think I do the same thing to kids way too often. I take a kid that hasn't quite found her groove as a reader. I tell the kid to choose a book on the first day of school and offer lots of options. The child doesn't know how to make a good choice, or there are too many possibilities, and she fails miserably and thus I reinforce her conceptions of herself, or remind her of previous failures, and thus I start the cycle of failure all over again.

I wonder what it would be like if I adjusted the conditions just a little. What about if I made sure Reina Telgemeier's graphic novels were on her table? What about if I threw a couple of picture books into each table's basket? Or book talked a series I knew she could read that first day, and then casually left the book on her table? Might she be more successful not just that day, but for many days to come?

I'm going to be thinking about Star and Shadow a lot as I start this school year. They have reminded me that my choices, as the teacher, really do matter.

Friday, June 22, 2018


Image from Wikimedia Creative Commons
Like millions of other Americans, and others around the world, I have been deeply, deeply grieved by the photographs that have emerged from our borders this week. I know those children. I teach those children. And I can't bear to see them locked up in cages, apart from their parents, with no toys or books or love. So, so sad. So, so scary. So absolutely, incredibly, fundamentally wrong. 

On a personal note, I know, firsthand, about the damage that is being done to children's hearts and minds and bodies. My sons, who I adopted at ages 7 and 9, live with Reactive Attachment Disorder every single day. We have been a family for 15 years, twice as long as they were in the foster care system (which I am not in any way comparing with the current situation at the border), and even now, 15 years later, they struggle. Despite years and years of therapy, they don't attach deeply to other people. They have acquaintances, but not deep friendships or girlfriends. They turn to substances to dull the pain and fill their lives. I fear similar issues for all of the children who are torn from their parents' arms and  locked in cages.

Penny Kittle shared this poem, which originally came from Tricia Ebarvia, on Twitter yesterday. The author, Warsan Shire, is the daughter of refugees from Somali. Penny shared the poem with the tweet, "This poem should be in the hands of everyone this week." I agree with her. Sometimes poetry is just way more eloquent than I could ever hope to be. 

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

Read the rest of the poem here

Michelle Kogan is hosting Poetry Friday. For her post, she reviews Margaret Simon's new book, Bayou Song. I can't wait to get hold of a copy! Congratulations, and happy book birthday, Margaret! 

Next Friday, the Poetry Friday Roundup will be here!